The latest news and updates from CARA.

CARA’s College Bridge Program Launches City-wide in Newark

After a small pilot in Newark’s Eagle Academy over the past several years, CARA’s College Bridge Program model will be launching in every high school in the city for the 24-25 academic year. With generous support from the Solon E. Summerfield Foundation and in collaboration with the Newark Board of Education (NBOE)Newark City of Learning Collaborative (NCLC), and Mentor Newark, CARA will be addressing the critical gap in college and career guidance for high school students in Newark by helping to train both school-based staff and college students.

After more than a year of planning with our partners, we were excited to facilitate a full-day meeting at Rutgers University – Newark with NBOE School Counselors to discuss the upcoming work. Each high school will have the opportunity to recruit their own Bridge Coaches for hiring. CARA will create training sessions specific to the New Jersey postsecondary landscape and provide 44 hours of comprehensive training in postsecondary access content for the coaches starting this summer.

CARA’s role extends beyond training the coaches. We will work closely with NCLC to provide professional development for Newark lead counselors and support their supervision of the Bridge Coaches, and participate in meetings to guide data collection and analysis processes in order to build a postsecondary access infrastructure in Newark.

From New York, to Washington State, to now in New Jersey, we’re proud to see CARA’s peer to peer program model being recognized as a proven model in helping school systems create a future where every student has the tools and support they need to achieve their college and career dreams.

Recent News from CARA

Summer

  • Former CARA Bridge Coach Leads Mental Health Training for Staff

    At a recent meeting, CARA staff had the chance to gain new strategies for addressing youth mental health by hearing from a former College Bridge Coach, Melissa Rivera. Now a professional in the field, Melissa shared knowledge from her current role and her past one as a peer leader at Flushing International High School.

    Melissa brought valuable insights on recognizing the signs of mental health struggles among students, such as substance use, self-harm, low motivation, and suicidal ideation. She emphasized the importance of normalizing and validating students’ emotions, highlighting the critical role that coaches, counselors, and other youth-facing adults play in supporting students.

    Melissa’s session not only educated CARA staff on these critical issues but also demonstrated the impactful cycle of learning and mentorship within our organization. Former students like Melissa, who return to train us, embody the success of our programs and reinforce our commitment to addressing the student mental health crisis as a piece of our postsecondary success work. By drawing on the insights of young people who have come through our programs, we can better understand their needs, and build the tools to address them.

    At CARA, we’re always looking for ways to increase our knowledge so that we can better equip peer leaders to cultivate spaces and relationships in which the students they serve experience personalized care and guidance to help support overall wellbeing. Thank you, Melissa!

  • Meet CARA’s Summer Interns: Braydon & Naomi

    We’re excited to welcome our interns this summer – Braydon Brewster and Naomi Nesmith! Both Braydon and Naomi bring unique perspectives and experiences to CARA. Their shared passion and interest in education, equity, and community engagement promises an exciting and productive summer. This is CARA’s 12th summer participating in Brown University’s Careers in the Common Good (CCG) internship program and the first time an intern will support a policy project.

    Welcome, Naomi and Braydon! We can’t wait to see the incredible contributions you will make.

    Braydon Brewster

    Braydon Brewster is a rising sophomore at Brown University considering a major in Finance. This summer, he will be working with CARA’s Right to College and College Bridge programs, helping to prepare training materials and coordinate summer training sessions for peer leaders.

    What attracted Braydon to CARA was its focus on education equity. As a former tutor at his high school, he remembers the significant difference the support he provided his peers made in their academic life. Braydon feels that growing in a small town in upstate New York made him unaware of the extent of educational inequalities. It wasn’t until he took a class on the sociology of education at Brown that he started learning about how race, class, gender, and other forms of social inequality impact educational opportunities and outcomes, and the ways he can play a role in creating change in the system.

    Braydon is passionate about learning and growing his skills, especially in new technology and how it can help influence change in systems and help teams work better. This summer, he is excited to enhance his skills including in public speaking, continue exploring his career interests, and meeting new people.

    Naomi Nesmith

    Naomi Nesmith is a sophomore at Brown University, majoring in Literary Arts with an independent study focusing on structural inequities and Black identity. This summer she will be working with our policy and research team, taking the lead with CARA’s first Youth Research Council that will conduct research on how young New Yorkers are thinking about the value of higher education.

    Naomi’s journey to CARA is rooted in her love for writing and her commitment to addressing educational disparities. As a teenager, she was an avid reader and writer, with a particular interest in poetry. Her passion for creative expression led her to become an enrichment teacher for 5th and 6th graders during a gap year in college, specializing in creative writing for English Language Learners (ENL) and students with Individualized Education Programs (IEP). Through this teaching experience, Naomi says she witnessed firsthand the inequities in education.

    This summer, Naomi aims to grow as a researcher and is excited about conducting research that informs policy and empowers young people. Naomi believes that many students are eager to learn more about the world and their place in it but lack the support in finding their place from people with shared experiences. She is ready to contribute to CARA’s mission addressing this support gap.

Spring

  • CARA Partners with uAspire to Address this Year’s FAFSA Fiasco

    Due to the troubled Better FAFSA launch, FAFSA submissions among high school seniors have dropped dramatically nationwide. To help elevate the voices of those doing the work in the field, CARA and uAspire held an event  on May 8 where panelists, including counselors, Bridge Coaches, and a youth leader from CARA partner schools, shared their challenges.

    Erika Castañeda, a Pathways Advisor at International Community High School, highlighted the challenges faced by students from mixed-status families in gathering FAFSA materials due to their parents’ fear of disclosing information to government agencies. For Analia Firpo, a Bridge Coach at the High School of Fashion Industries, who has spent much of her time helping students navigate difficult conversations with their guardians, “the biggest frustration is seeing students having to be parents to their parents.”

    Despite the fact that completing the FAFSA increases the likelihood of attending college by 84%, this year’s application process challenges have led students like Eileen Concepcion, a senior and Youth Leader at the High School of Fashion Industries, to consider not going to college at all because “It’s taken the excitement away from the whole going-to-college experience.”

    While the postsecondary plan rates for the class of 2024 won’t be known until summer, the efforts of CARA peer leaders and counselors have shown positive results. As of May 17, the FAFSA completion rate at CARA partner schools was 46.9%, surpassing both the national average and comparable low-income schools in New York State.

    We anticipate that this year’s FAFSA challenges will further reduce first-time freshmen enrollment in Fall 2024 as well as lower retention rates for current college students. To address these issues, CARA will continue to listen to our partners on the ground—both in high schools and colleges—and work to elevate their experiences with stakeholders who hold power in the policy and funding arenas.

  • Insights from Visiting Partners in Washington State

    CARA is working in partnership with Foundation for Tacoma Students (FFTS) to adapt our peer to peer persistence model for the Tacoma and Pierce County regions with the support of ECMC Foundation. CARA’s co-director Lori Chajet and Senior Director of College Allies and Persistence Partnerships Shalema Henderson recently visited Washington to meet with FFTS staff and conduct visits with campus partners.

    During the trip, Shalema had the opportunity to present at the FFTS’ Charting Our Future conference on CARA’s work in the region to replicate our scaled peer-to-peer advising model. The session, which was co-facilitated with Asha Richardson from FFTS, featured a panel of peer leaders and supervisors from Tacoma Community College. “A lot of my students did not know how to reach out to their advisors or who to reach out to, but with the training and resources I’ve received, I’ve been able to help myself while also helping them,” Bella, a Peer Leader at TCC shared.

    It was particularly exciting to then conduct visits with our partners at Tacoma Community College (TCC), where we met with a range of stakeholders on the campus. TCC’s Vice President of Student Affairs is actively working to position the peer leaders as a part of the campus’ approach to resolving equity issues in who persists through to graduation. His focus: Making sure the peer leaders are building student agency and helping them to use the resources that are available to them.

    As CARA continues to create pathways to education equity for all students, we’re proud of how our work is creating impact in Washington as well as bringing additional context, knowledge and resources to strengthen our models in NYC.

  • Transforming Brianna Sanzone’s College and Career Journey

    Brianna Sanzone, 18, has always enjoyed connecting with and helping others, but she never imagined it would lead to her first job. As a student at Queens High School of Teaching, Liberal Arts and the Sciences (QHST), she was highly active—serving as student government president, playing softball, and volunteering in the college office. Because of her dedication, Brianna was offered a position as a Bridge Coach at QHST’s college office before starting her freshman year at Queens College in the fall of 2023.

    Now, Brianna is part of a three-person team supporting about 200 juniors and seniors in their postsecondary planning at QHST. She’s one of the Bridge Coaches who benefit both from CARA’s mentorship and job opportunity.

    Read more ➝
  • Grantmakers for Education Webinar Highlights CARA’s Peer-to-Peer Advising Model

    On April 16, CARA’s co-director Lori Chajet joined Grantmakers for Education’s webinar on “Postsecondary Spotlight on Peer-to-Peer Advising,” alongside Jonathan Reid from the ECMC Foundation and Laura Silverman, Rebecca deJesus, and Selina Singh from Queens College (QC).

    The discussion highlighted challenges in supporting first-gen, low-income students at broad access public institutions like CUNY, and provided the education grant-making community a better understanding of the key issues of education equity that arise in these spaces. At the heart of the discussion was the peer-to-peer advising model implemented at Queens College through CARA’s College Allies program.

    “Peer advisors serve as an extension of the advising team, offering ongoing encouragement and support, and serving as a familiar resource for their peers.”Rebecca deJesus, Associate Director, QC

    “We do more than just keeping students enrolled, we help them gain confidence to overcome their challenges.”Selina Singh, Peer Advisor, QC

    By integrating peer advisors into the fabric of campus support systems, colleges like Queens College are not only enhancing student experiences but also nurturing a pipeline of talent and fostering a culture of inclusivity. “This high-fidelity structure of the Academic Advising Center at QC, which works with all undergraduate students not affiliated with special programs, is proactive, relational, and continuous”, noted Laura Silverman, Director of QC’s Academic Center.

    As higher education institutions strive to create equitable support, peer-to-peer advising continues to emerge as a cost-effective and impactful solution. Thank you to Grantmakers for Education for providing a platform for practitioners who are addressing declining enrollment and persistence to share the impact of their work, and for helping to cultivate a wider circle of stakeholders working towards equity in higher education.

  • Youth leaders Testify at City Council Budget Hearings

    On March 18 youth workers, representatives from community-based organizations, parents, and students from all over New York City gathered on the steps of City Hall prior to the City Council hearing on the 2025 education budget. In Mayor Adam’s current budget, necessary programs such as publicly funded Pre-K, 3-K school, Student Success Centers (SSCs), mental health counseling, and more are slated to be severely condensed or eradicated all together.

    Malik Mattison, a high school senior and a CARA Right to College Youth Leader at the Brooklyn School of Math and Research, shared his testimony with the City Council earlier that day.

    “Without the support of the SSC I would not have achieved many of my accomplishments, like becoming the President of my school’s National Honor Society or becoming a Youth Leader. My role as a Youth Leader in the SSC has also allowed me to help other students in their academics, encouraging them to believe in themselves, learn, spread post-secondary awareness, and to ask for support when it is needed. My SSC makes me feel like I am being seen and that I matter in my community.”

    Student Success Centers were created by students, for students in schools serving NYC’s most under-resourced communities. NYC officials both within and outside of educational institutions have acknowledged the importance of postsecondary pathway exploration. Budget cuts in education will impact the future pathways of students, depriving them of what is required to explore postsecondary pathways and develop the skills necessary to make informed choices about the future that is right for them.

  • Bringing CARA’s High School Advising Expertise to Washington State

    Native students at Peninsula College wove graduation caps from cedar, a traditional material used by Sovereign Nations on the Olympic peninsula.

    Over the next year, CARA will be working to support a range of partners in Washington state to improve their college and career advising infrastructure. Working as a consultant for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, CARA will be assisting in the creation of advising implementation plans for four recipients of a Horizons grant, each consisting of partnerships between k-12 districts, higher ed institutions, and local community based organizations.

    CARA’s co-director Janice Bloom recently returned from Washington. She traveled to a range of areas, including the several districts south of Seattle that serve almost 40% of the state’s students, and rural areas on the Olympic Peninsula and in the southeastern part of the state where some districts have under 100 students in 6-12th grade. Having the chance to meet with college presidents and high school students who run their school’s greenhouse, talk with college and career counselors, and visit the longhouse at Peninsula College will help CARA to better understand and support grantees as well as understand the similarities and differences in advising needs across the country.

    We’re excited to bring our expertise to new places and to learn new things to bring back to our work in NYC.

  • “Better” FAFSA is Worse This Year

    Over the last two months, it has become increasingly clear that the new FAFSA is not yet better, and in fact this year is much worse for high school seniors and their families, for the high school counselors working to support them, and for colleges.

    A cascade of articles in the New York TimesWashington Post and Chronicle of Higher Education confirm the scope and magnitude of the problems the new form is creating. These include not just the late timing of the FAFSA release, but also:

    • Technical glitches on the site;
    • Delays in processing by the US Department of Education which mean that financial aid information will not get to colleges until March, delaying students’ reception of financial aid packages until much later than customary;
    • Incorrect aid estimates for families, because the Education Department had failed to update a critical income formula when the FAFSA was initially released;
    • Failure to create a way for students whose parents do not have an SSN to complete the form, even if the students themselves are US citizens. While a work-around was recently announced, one counselor quoted in the Chronicle of Higher Ed pointed out,

    “In many ways, this proposed solution is too little, too late, with the burden of making difficult decisions on how to proceed forward with financial-aid applications being placed on students and families with limited knowledge of how the financial-aid process works…”

    This has led to FAFSA submission rates that are 57% lower than last year at the end of January. What all of the articles agree on is that this will affect low-income students the most. As the Times article points out,

    “The ripple effect could be catastrophic. Federal financial aid programs were created to open the doors to higher education, bringing a dream within reach for some who would otherwise be unable to unlock that future. Those who can least afford to pay for college will be the most adversely affected.”

    For current college students, there are likely to be new issues as well. Unlike past years when they “re-filed” FAFSA (which was less onerous than the original filing), this year all students must complete a new FAFSA from scratch, including re-engaging their parents in the process. This means the new FAFSA may not just impact incoming students, but current first-gen students’ retention.

    One short-term fix is pushing back “decision day” past the usual May 1st deadline; both SUNY and CUNY have done so, and some private colleges as well. This is a start, but we anticipate that getting FAFSA completion to the levels of past years – even post-pandemic ones – will be a herculean task for the class of 2024, and all who are supporting them.

  • Revisiting and Revising Access Work in the Bronx

    CARA’s College Inquiry team spent the fall and early winter working with a group of eight Consortium schools in the Bronx. Heading into the 2023-4 school year, the “Bronx 8” – whose principals meet regularly together and each year undertake a shared pedagogical project – wanted to revitalize their 9-12 postsecondary access and matriculation support work post-pandemic.

    In meetings with schools leaders and guidance staff, both as a whole group and with individual school teams, CARA brought critical attention to holes in the 9-13 postsecondary “pipeline”, helped schools to share strong practices and learn from each other, and shared resources to track data and measure effectiveness of schools’ practices. We saw great value in working together with groups of schools who are already networked in communities of practice, and see this as a valuable future direction for College Inquiry’s work going forward.

    Thanks to Nancy Mann, who CARA began working with when we first began the College Inquiry Program, for bringing us back to this work in the Bronx.

  • Presenting CARA’s Peer-to-Peer Persistence to Northeast Colleges

    CARA was honored to co-present, with our partners at CCNY, at NACADA‘s Regional Conference in Providence, RI. The conference’s central theme was mattering; our session, “Using Peer-to-Peer to Help Low Income, First Generation Students Persist and Belong”, was presented to 50 higher educational professionals, and showcased CARA’s collaboration with CCNY to scale peer-to-peer support to make it a fundamental component of the first-year experience.

    Co-presenters Dominic Stellini (CCNY’s Executive Director of Student Engagement) and Sophia Bogues (Director of College Connect) emphasized the importance of working across various levels of leadership at a campus, integrating peer leaders into existing enrollment practices, and providing leadership opportunities for peer leaders. They highlighted that over the last 3 years CCNY has grown its reach to support over 50% more students than in the program’s first year, started peer-to-peer outreach earlier to help students build connections to their college community, and strengthened supervision for peer leaders. Dominic explained, “The most important feature of a successful program is a multilevel-tiered support structure – for students served and the peer leaders.”

    We are looking forward to continuing our work at CCNY, alongside several other CUNY campuses and CUNY’s Central Office of Student Affairs, to build a sustainable scaled peer-to-peer model that helps to ensure all students see they matter and have the support they need to be successful in college.