United Way features Enroot’s Georgia Lederman: In the Face of Challenge, Paving a Way to College and Career

Author: Brigid Boyd

The national college admissions bribery scandal has sparked a new level of attention on the competition and costs that together put college out of reach to many students. While the celebrity aspect of the story garners public attention, there is much work to do to level the playing field and invest in the potential of all young people.

And even though the process is incredibly complex and time-consuming, many families have the knowledge and resources to help their teenagers select the best school for them, navigate test prep courses, and apply for financial aid.

AVOIDING “VERIFICATION MELT” AND OTHER CHALLENGES

However, students from low-income families or households with limited English proficiency, or students who are first-generation in their families to go to college, are often on their own when it comes to the college admissions process. And with the ratio of students to school counselors averaging 410 to one in Massachusetts, it’s unrealistic to expect that the schools can do it alone.

“There simply are not enough school counselors to help those students coming from homes where neither parent has finished college, and perhaps even high school, and where the family’s financial situation may make college seem completely out of reach,” says Linda E. Saris, Executive Director at LEAP for Education in Salem. “Research tells us that underserved students need extra support and resources to make it successfully through post-secondary education.”

Georgia Lederman, Manager of College Success and Alumni Engagement at the Cambridge-based Enroot, adds that when English is not the first language at home, families have difficulties understanding and translating the nuanced and complex details of the college application process. As a result, these students receive less support writing critical scholarship and college essays.

For students experiencing homelessness or not living with their parents, the process of gathering all forms of tax documentation, ordering tax transcripts from the IRS, printing different school-specific verification forms for each college they have applied to and sending signed copies through the appropriate channels correctly — and on time — can be overwhelming. They are particularly so if the responsibility for those steps falls to the student. Kaitlyn Farmer, the Project Launch Coordinator at RAW Art Works in Lynn, says the cost of not completing all of these verification steps can be devastating, resulting in the loss of grants and aid needed for students to attend the college of their choice.

“As a college access organization, we are here to ensure no student slips through the cracks and suffers from what the industry has deemed ‘verification melt,’” Farmer said. “No low-income student should have to navigate the complexities of financial aid verification on their own. But without the help of supportive college access programs, that is the reality many will face.”

INVESTING IN THE FUTURE

Support for vulnerable students can begin well before they decide on their post-graduation path. This year, United Way is investing $5.58 million in 82 agencies that provide college and career readiness programming, funds that will help these organizations reach 44,803 school-age youth.

Recognizing that certain students  — low-income, first-generation to go to college, or who are from communities of color — need extra support and resources to make it successfully through post-secondary education, community-based programs are filling a critical need.

Enroot, for instance, matches students one-to-one with mentors and tutors and hosts monthly workshops that address essays and college processes. Their tutors and mentors support students with SAT preparation, referring students to free SAT preparation courses. Enroot works proactively to ensure students are skilled in financial literacy and budgeting and supports students in choosing financially feasible colleges. They also help students complete the FAFSA application process by partnering with uAspire, a nonprofit dedicated to financial aid literacy.

LEAP for Education in Salem recognizes the high potential of the students who are typically locked out of the traditional college pipeline and provides an on-ramp to 350 students in Salem, Peabody, and Gloucester into college. LEAP provides students with academic enrichment, community engagement, college and career exploration and advising, and personal development opportunities.

GETTING THROUGH ONE DOOR CAN OPEN MANY OTHERS

Salem School Committee member Manny Cruz can personally attest to the support these programs provide young people. Manny started attending LEAP when he was in middle school. He came from a low-income, single parent household where English was not spoken, and was a disengaged student, earning well below-average grades. The staff provided academic support, enrichment, and help with his social and emotional well-being throughout his middle and high school years.

LEAP staff helped Manny explore his interest in politics and social justice more deeply. Through weekly meetings his senior year with his LEAP adviser, he completed all his admissions applications, received enough financial aid to cover his tuition and enrolled at Salem State University to pursue a degree in Political Science. Wanting more work-based learning experiences, LEAP staff once again worked with Manny to submit his transfer application to Northeastern University and introduced him to a scholarship which provided him with full tuition.

Through social connections made by LEAP staff, Manny participated and later became Chair of Governor Deval Patrick’s Youth Council and earned a prestigious fellowship in the courts. During his time at Northeastern, Manny completed three co-op experiences and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Political Science.

Now, he’s giving back to the community that supported him.  After graduation, Manny was hired as a legislative aide to a state representative and won election to Salem’s School Committee on his first try. Manny joined the LEAP Board in 2018.

“LEAP staff put me on a pathway to college and career success by providing me with high quality experiential learning, academic support and mentoring,” Cruz said. “With LEAP I began to believe in myself and was able create a blueprint for my future.”

In the last 5 years, of the students who have actively attended LEAP’s programs for two years or more, 90% have enrolled in college, 72% have earned a college degree, and 85% have earned post-secondary credentials or degrees.

“Thanks to funding from the United Way, LEAP works tirelessly to close the opportunity and achievement gaps for hundreds more underserved students who have the potential to fill the jobs of tomorrow,” said LEAP’s Executive Director Linda Saris.

Enroot responds to terrorist attacks on Mosques in New Zealand

Dear Enroot Community,

Today I cried on the way into work as I learned of the horrific terrorist attacks on Mosques in New Zealand. It just rattled me to my core. It was among the most extreme acts of racism and Islamophobic terrorism many of us have witnessed in our lifetime. It was an attack on Muslims, an attack on immigrants, an attack on people of color, an attack on difference, and a total assault on humanity.

As you know, we are proud that many of Enroot’s students are Muslims. Our students hail from 33 countries. All are students of color. All are immigrants. All have chosen to call this country their home and have sacrificed more than most of us can even imagine to make that possible. It’s heartbreaking that today many of them may feel less safe, less welcome, and less certain of those around them than they did yesterday.

It’s easy to condemn attacks like today’s and write them off as representative of only a narrow fringe element of society. But they are inspired by a White Nationalist narrative that is growing, rather than shrinking, in political prominence around the world. Perhaps more importantly, subtler versions of the same Islamophobia and related bigotry are constantly swirling all around us. When we are passive about their existence, they take root and grow. 

Events like today’s require that each of us take an honest look in the mirror and ask how we fit into this situation - what is our role in addressing it? We must challenge ourselves to find new ways to actively resist Islamophobia, White Nationalism, and anti-immigrant sentiment - What steps can I, Ben Clark, take to be a more effective ally and co-conspirator in dismantling racism and hatred in my daily life?

Most immediately, we can ask ourselves what we are doing to extend compassion and care to our Muslim family as they process this assault on their identity. 

Thank you for your dedication to Enroot students and for being active participants in creating a safer, more loving, more promising future for them in this country.

With love and healing thoughts,

Ben

Winter 2019 Newsletter

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Dear Enroot Community,

The new year is off to a great start at Enroot with our biggest class of students to date; we couldn’t be more proud of all the things they are achieving. I continue to be inspired constantly by the resilience and generosity they demonstrate day after day.

This year’s MLK Many Helping Hands Day of Service was an incredible chance to connect with so many of you. Walking into the room with my own little kids I was struck by what a dedicated community we are, that even on such a frigid day we show up, love freely, and give generously.

And yet, we are reminded on a daily basis what a difficult time it is to be a person of color and immigrant at this point in our country’s history. Both the FBI report last November and data compiled by the Center for Hate and Extremism confirm a significant and deeply troubling rise in hate crimes.

Now more than ever it’s essential for us to use our voices at every opportunity to stand up against racism, anti-immigrant sentiment, and hatred in all of its forms. I encourage you to attend the Cambridge Digs DEEP events, a series of conversations facilitated by Dr. Darnisa Amante and hosted by the City of Cambridge that offer opportunities to learn and become both a resource and an advocate.

Thank you for being a part of Enroot’s work and for the work each of you are doing in your own circles to dismantle racism and discrimination. We need and appreciate every one of you.

Ben    

College Visits, Mentoring, and more
Somerville: Students and mentors established strong and trusting relationships this fall and winter. Mentorship comes in many different shapes and forms: sometimes it's just investing a few minutes to play an UNO game, studying for an exam, taking selfies, learning about each other's cultures, ice skating for the first time, or celebrating a small success. Mentors, thank you for everything you do. Your impact on the students is extremely important and the positivity you bring to our young adults shows itself through the students' progress. Last week, Somerville students went on a field trip to Akamai to learn about careers in technology - read more about the trip on our blog!
 
Cambridge: Enroot Cambridge had 4 recent college visits!  We went to Tufts University, Simmons College, UMass Boston and Benjamin Franklin Institute. At Simmons and UMass Boston, we met with Enroot alumni who shared their experiences with current students. It's exciting and motivating for students to be able to visit local campuses and picture themselves in college. Leadership students and their mentors kicked off the holiday season by building Gingerbread Houses together right before Winter Break. Pairs spent the first half of the evening polishing up students' resumes, and the second half constructing Gingerbread structures of all shapes and sizes. Enroot Cambridge students had a great visit to Fidelity Investment. Cambridge student, Adnan, wrote about the visit to Fidelity on our blog. Students heard from speakers who told their immigrant stories and how they made it to where they are today. In addition, students had the opportunity to to practice networking and interviewing skills and in the process meet Fidelity professionals from all backgrounds.

Across Sites: Our annual holiday party brought together students from both of our partner schools to play games, make new friends, and dance to music from around the world.
Spotlight on College Success
This fall we enrolled 28 students in Enroot's new College Success program. We're thrilled that and 100% of those students are still enrolled in college for the spring semester and 46% of our students made the Dean's Lists at their schools (requiring a 3.5 GPA or higher). College Success students attended our recent holiday gathering with mentors and received school supplies generously donated by The Philanthropy Connection members. This winter, our Manager of College Success will conduct 1-1 phone calls, creating personalized support plans with each student.
STEAM Panel
Enroot held a STEAM panel featuring careers in robotics, biotechnology, mechanical engineering, e-commerce, and IT infrastructure. Thank you to the Biogen Foundation for including our students in the STAR Initiative and making learning opportunities like this possible! A special thank you to our panelists from Ava Robotics, Akamai Technologies, Sensata Technologies, CarGurus, and Biogen.
Cycling for Enroot
Enroot raised over $1,000 at the Handlebar Indoor Cycling Studio in Harvard Square! Enroot volunteers, friends, and community members joined a 45-minute community ride with profits going to support Enroot's work. Thank you for coming out!
Enroot in the News
Check out these three articles featuring Enroot in the Cambridge Chronicle and Christian Science Monitor!
  • Despite the freezing weather, Enroot students came out to serve their community at Many Helping Hands’ Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service on January 21st in Cambridge. Students volunteered alongside nearly 3000 members of the Cambridge community including Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Ayanna Pressley, as they made scarves, blankets, and Valentines Day cards. Enroot student Harry is pictured above with Elizabeth Warren in an article by the Cambridge Chronicle.
  • What’s made rates of degree attainment for immigrant students spike? A recent article in The Christian Science Monitor looks to Enroot's work as part of the answer. "Across the country, the education levels of immigrants have been steadily rising over the past several decades, partly because of programs like Enroot that focus on providing long-term support. In 1980, about 16 percent of immigrants had earned a bachelor’s degree. By 2016, the number grew to 30 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. This increase has all but closed the gap between immigrants and US-born residents: 31.6 percent of those born in the US have a bachelor’s degree." 
  • Executive Director Ben Clark wrote an opinion piece published in the Cambridge Chronicle in December entitled, "An open letter to the white community of Cambridge." "When I reflect honestly on racist and/or discriminatory things I’ve said or done, two decades ago or even last week, I feel a pit form in my stomach and deep shame. It’s natural to feel bad about these things and ashamed of how our actions diminish the experience of people who are dear to us. It’s also natural to wonder whether these things you’ve already done compromise your moral integrity. I believe the true test is in whether, upon more clearly recognizing how your actions impact others, you take responsibility and corrective action." 
Enroot is a nonprofit dedicated to empowering immigrant youth to achieve academic, career, and personal success through inspiring out-of-school experiences. 

Opinion Piece Featured in Cambridge Chronicle

Ben Clark, Enroot’s Executive Director, wrote an open letter to the white community of Cambridge featured in the Cambridge Chronicle.

“For a city that has long championed civil rights and discourse on equity and inclusion, it is alarming how Cambridge’s ongoing struggles with racism remain a daily part of life for so many residents of color. Sadly, most white people like me remain passive in a situation that demands active resistance.

In recent months there have been countless incidents of racism and hatred around greater Boston -- from graffiti in schools to death threats made to Muslim students. Here in Cambridge, the two racist incidents at our high school in the last week were just the latest to put the issue on full display.

These disturbing occurrences point to a much broader and unfortunate trend across the country, as captured in November’s FBI report, which highlighted a 17 percent spike in hate crimes nationwide in the last year. It’s important to measure and condemn such overt acts of oppression, yet many more subtle moments go unrecorded and unnoticed every day by those who are not victims.

Everyone is susceptible to implicit bias in thought and action. But those of us who are white and benefit each day from our white privilege must be especially honest with ourselves about our ugliest biases and all the ways they manifest themselves in discriminatory actions.

To my fellow white community members, I urge you -- take time to look yourself humbly in the mirror and consider the biases you hold that cause you to view people of color in an inferior light. Search your memory for moments in recent months and years when you acted in a way that diminished the dignity and well-being of people of color in your life.”

Read the full article here.

Enroot Featured in Christian Science Monitor

What's made rates of degree attainment for immigrant students spike? A recent Christian Science Monitor article featured Enroot’s work and our students, written by Jasmine Heyward.

A college education bestows undeniable career advantages. What can be learned from the astonishing successes of immigrant students in the US over the last 30 years?

“At Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS) in Cambridge, Mass., students flood into the international student center after the bell rings, marking the end of the school day.

One of them is Nafis Rahman, a high school senior from Bangladesh who arrived in the United States in 2016. After spending his first year in classes specifically for English-language learners, he’s now able to take courses with the mainstream students at CRLS. His favorite: Advanced Placement Computer Science.

Greeting him and others are staff from Enroot, a nonprofit that works with immigrant high school students in Cambridge and Somerville, Mass. They pepper the students with questions: Are you coming to the leadership workshop this week? When was the last time you talked to your mentor?

It’s the kind of holistic approach that students like Nafis say they find helpful. He has received tutoring, mentoring, and an internship from Enroot – and is now applying to college.

“Tomorrow I’m going to submit applications to all the UMass [schools] and WPI,” he says, referring to Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Mass.

Across the country, the education levels of immigrants have been steadily rising over the past several decades, partly because of programs like Enroot that focus on providing long-term support. In 1980, about 16 percent of immigrants had earned a bachelor’s degree. By 2016, the number grew to 30 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. This increase has all but closed the gap between immigrants and US-born residents: 31.6 percent of those born in the US have a bachelor’s degree.

While immigrants from South and East Asia are most likely to hold a bachelor’s degree, and college graduates from those groups are more likely to remain in the US to work, educational attainment is rising among all ethnicities and origin countries. For example, the number of Mexican immigrants 25 and older with a high school diploma has more than doubled since 1980 – from 11.4 to 25.2 percent. Experts say it’s necessary to take the long view to see those numbers rise more.

Educators who work with immigrant students, especially at the high school level, say it’s necessary to take the long view to see those numbers rise even more.

Sandra Cañas, Enroot’s Cambridge program director, has found that many of the immigrant students who arrive at CRLS are highly driven and hold themselves to high standards but need extra resources as they adjust to a new learning experience.

“Some of the students come with one parent, and they don’t have the support or the guidance they need to make decisions in regards to school issues,” she says. “The whole process is so daunting ... we feel that it is important that students get the support they need for whatever they want to do.”’