News from CARA

The latest news and updates from CARA.

Building Social Capital: The Far Reach of Near Peers


CARA’s peer leadership model is centrally featured in a new “Smart Brief” by the director of education research at the Clayton Christensen Institute. As part of their work on building social capital, the Christensen Institute has done a range of research on the power of near-peer networks. As noted in the article,

“In a recent Search Institute study of programs helping students from low-income households secure upwardly-mobile jobs, near peers emerged as the strongest developmental relationship (compared with direct peers and program staff). They provided program participants with the most resources, such as valuable information, connections to employers and professional skills.”

Along with building social capital, the article highlights the ways a peer leadership model is a financially effective way to expand schools’ counseling capacity.

Recent News from CARA


  • College Bridge in Action: Performance-based Assessment of Peer Leaders

    College Bridge Supervisors joined us at the end of our 3-day training earlier this month, in order to complete the mid-year evaluation process with their Bridge Coaches. This evaluation process is part of a year-long performance based assessment model that we use in all of our Peer Leader programs to gauge Peer Leaders’ understanding of the content we focus on in our training sessions and determine the support that they might need. It is also a critical piece of the professional work experience that Peer Leaders receive through serving in this role. The evaluation is based on our Peer Leader Core Competencies and Professional Capacities, which are the heart of the skills that our Peer Leaders develop in their roles.

    At our recent College Bridge training, Supervisors and Coaches were given time to individually complete their portions of the evaluation and then came together to discuss. The process culminated with Coaches and Supervisors using their reflection and discussion to create goals for the coaches for the rest of the school year.

    Brandon Mendoza, first year Coach at Lyons Community School, reflected afterwards, “I liked the evaluation process because it was an opportunity to properly talk to my supervisor about my work. It made me understand what I was doing right and what I need to do to improve myself for the future.”

  • College Bridge “Keeps it Relevant” on CUNY podcast

    As 2022 drew to a close, Deneysis Labrada (director of CARA’s College Bridge program) and Dorma Lozada (Bridge Coach at The Facing History School) sat down with CUNY TV’s Ronnie Eldridge for her podcast, Eldridge & Co. – Keeping Relevant. Ronnie last spoke with CARA before the pandemic, and was interested to hear what has changed in college access work since then.

    Deneysis and Dorma talk about the difficulties of remote schooling at both the high school and college level, and trying to navigate when “there were a lot of relationships that were broken; there’s only so much relationship you can build through a computer“. As a first-year college student in the fall of 2020, Dorma had to surmount those challenges herself; that experience is now a valuable source of connection with the students she is serving.

    The episode aired last week, and you can listen to Deneysis, Dorma and Ronnie here.

  • A Year of Transformation at International High School for Health Sciences

    (IHSHS’ Postsecondary Team: Ruth Camacho, Lori Sandler, Heather Cristol, Tania Alvarez, Momo Sullivan, and C. Anthony Finney)

    At the end of the 2020-21 school year, school leaders at International High School for Health Sciences (IHSHS) in Queens were looking at data on the impact COVID had on their students. They were disheartened to see that college applications and enrollments – which had been increasing before the pandemic – had dropped substantially. Wanting to turn that trend around, they joined CARA’s College Inquiry program and since then have undertaken an exciting and comprehensive development of their postsecondary access program.

    Since fall of 2021, IHSHS has gone from its 9th & 10th grades having no college and career curriculum, to having multiple lessons on the postsecondary landscape. They’ve added a dedicated postsecondary class in 11th grade and doubled the class time of their 12th grade college course. IHSHS has also created a dedicated College Counselor position, expanding their capacity for one-on-one advising and hosting college and career events. As a result of these changes, CUNY applications at IHSHS have jumped 15 percentage points, from 79% of seniors applying last year to 94% this year.

    Along with these numbers and structures, the college and career culture at IHSHS is energized and collaborative. Staff are working together across grade levels, coordinated by the newly formed postsecondary team (including former College Bridge Coach Ruth Camacho, who is now the school’s Parent Coordinator!), and talk about college and careers is becoming part of the daily conversation among students. Richard Robinson, CARA’s Inquiry Coach working at the school, noted that “students are starting to learn through osmosis–not only are conversations around college and careers getting normalized, they’re becoming better informed.”

    In a time when many schools are struggling to resurrect and rethink their postsecondary access work, it is encouraging to see this work taking off at IHSHS. We’re eager to see where this work takes the school and its students next.

  • Peer to Peer: CBOs Supporting CBOs

    It takes a lot for Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) to develop and run school-based Student Success Centers, and the ability to do it well doesn’t happen overnight. The most experienced CBO partners of CARA’s Right to College program know that better than anyone.

    As the number of CBOs doing this work increases across NYC – the latest to join being Commonpoint Queens, with support from the DoE’s Office of Postsecondary Readiness – CARA has begun an initiative to ensure newer and more seasoned CBOs have opportunities to be in conversation with one another. In early November CARA hosted a meeting to make this happen. During a panel discussion featuring leadership from Cypress Hills LDC, Good Shepherd Services, and New Settlement, some important words of wisdom were shared about the common threads of effective SSCs.

    “The relationship piece is extremely important – relationships with principals, the people on campus that really do the work, other CBOs on campuses. We want to make sure this is not a competition and that our work is complimentary.” – Theory Thompson, GSS

    “You need agency buy-in from the leadership of your organization. We see SSCs as a concrete strategy to fulfill our agency’s mission of lifting students out of poverty and we also see it as a continuum of our work with young people – from high school and through college and careers. All those things move a neighborhood – not one piece itself.” – Emily Van Ingen, Cypress Hills LDC

    “We are doing workforce development with young people. That is a part of what the SSCs are. We have four former Youth Leaders and Bridge coaches working as college counselors on the Taft campus now. That inspires me.” – Maggie Pimentel, New Settlement

    While each of the now 9 CBOs working with SSCs in NYC is as unique as the schools they serve, we are proud to be united with them in belief in the leadership and capability of young people and a willingness to organize around that belief.

  • Building Career Pathways in Schools Summit Series

    One of the NYC Department of Education’s goals for the year is broadening beyond “college for all” to “ensuring all students attain rewarding and economically secure careers”. To explore more deeply what it means to build these career pathways in high schools, CARA is collaborating with JobsFirstNYC and Shared Lane and a group of current and former CARA partner schools over the course of this year.

    On October 14th, we hosted the first of three summits, bringing together principals, counselors, and teachers from nine high schools across the city to discuss implementing well-designed and individualized career exploration. The summit provided opportunities for attendees to deepen their understanding of economic opportunities in NYC, practice using a variety of career exploration resources, and spend time developing curriculum maps for their schools to use in the year ahead.

    Upcoming summits will focus on career learning experiences (December) and individualized postsecondary and career advising (March), continuing to give educators time to learn from each other, as well as plan in school teams. We are already learning so much, and look forward to reporting on our findings towards the end of the year.

  • CARA’s College Bridge Program in Newark

    This fall, CARA is collaborating with Mentor Newark and Newark City of Learning Collaborative (NCLC) to implement our College Bridge model at Eagle Academy Newark. Mekhi Fields, an alum of Eagle Academy and current junior at St. Elizabeth College, is working with seniors at the high school to explore postsecondary options, make college lists, and complete college applications. Next up: completion of FAFSA and HESAA applications.

    Mekhi is joining NYC Bridge Coaches for monthly training, while continuing ongoing mentoring training with Mentor Newark. At the same time, CARA staff is working with Eagle Academy Newark’s school counselor to offer support and learn the NJ college access landscape.

    Our hope and plan is that Mehki is laying the groundwork for more of his peers to act as Bridge Coaches in Newark high schools in the years ahead.


  • College Inquiry Takes Root in Hawai’i

    This summer, CARA’s College Inquiry program began a partnership with Honoka’a High & Intermediate School on the big island of Hawai’i, with generous support from Hawai’i P-20 and GEAR UP. Honoka’a will be utilizing CARA’s college and career access curriculum to expand exposure for students in grades 7 – 12. These lessons build on the school’s rich tradition of career and technical education (CTE) programming by providing early support for students in understanding their post-secondary options.

    Principal Rachelle Matsumura and College Counselor Alana Haituska-Fernandez welcomed CARA coach Ally Levy to the school in August to provide professional development for the entire staff, as well as more tailored support for the CTE faculty. Additionally, the school’s Teen College Counselors, a cadre of 12th grade youth leaders supporting their peers with college applications, worked with Ally to hone their counseling skills and outreach strategy.

    Like many schools in the state, Honoka’a is in a rural area and its student population is incredibly diverse. Its remoteness from college campuses creates an additional barrier to the typical obstacles first-generation-to-college students, immigrant youth, and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander families may face. However the community is also a close-knit one, and the school looks to draw on that interconnectedness to increase opportunities to educate and engage families in the post-secondary planning process. We look forward to assisting Honoka’a faculty in building their capacity to serve the students and family of their historic town and valley.

  • Our Program Associates’ first anniversary at CARA

    To mark their first year as Program Associates at CARA, Krystal Diaz and Pamela Vasquez reflected together on insights they would share with their younger peer leader selves; career skills and self-care; and their goals for the future.

    What Skills Have Stayed With You From Being A Peer Leader?

    Krystal: My ability to talk to people and make whoever I’m talking to in the room comfortable, especially peer leaders. I owe a lot of my success to that – without developing that skill and being put in those uncomfortable positions of counseling my peers and table facilitating and running a little session here and there, slowly building up to full on reaching out to people on my own and everything. I think that’s my biggest takeaway skill that I got from starting off as a Bridge Coach.

    Pamela: I never saw myself doing this until I got the Bridge Coach position. What also really helped me was CARA as a whole, opening a lot of doors. [For the other jobs I’ve had], at Pratt, at different schools, was because of CARA as my network.

    Krystal: And now working with peer leaders coming off us being peer leaders, it gives us an opportunity to share with our younger selves in the work that we do and kind of make sure that we’re giving them the direction, the opportunities, the truth that maybe we didn’t get.

    Continue reading →
  • Collaborating Across College Bridge & Right to College

    Above: College Bridge Coach Agustin Garcia Flores with
    the New Settlement Youth Leaders during Summer Training Institute.


    Being a CARA peer leader means sharing in the goal of bringing more college and future planning access into first-generation/low income communities. Across our peer leader programs young people are trained to not only assist their peers with the various processes regarding planning for their futures, but also to improve their own leadership and professional development skills. As an organization, we are always looking for ways to create these opportunities in-house.

    Summer 2021 was the pilot season where a small group of Bridge Coaches were selected to facilitate in training classrooms for Right to College Summer Institute. Helping onboard these budding peer leaders, the Bridge Coaches utilized their experiences in college and career planning to prep Youth Leaders on what to expect with their new roles in their high schools. Last summer was a great success, so Bridge Coaches were invited again this summer to take on those same roles; with the setting now switching to in-person, there was a whole new set of skills for both YLs and BCs. (See photo above)

    For the year ahead, College Bridge and Right to College have made a joint goal to find more ways to collaborate. Sharing PDs, putting Bridge Coaches at joint sites in leadership roles with their Youth Leaders, and creating training sessions that bring both groups together are a few of the ways BC and RtC plan to intermingle in the new year to come.

  • College Enrollment Trends

    As we head into the start of the 2022-23 school year feeling hopeful about more of a return to pre-COVID “normal”, we are also seeing a concerning trend in postsecondary education. Gathered from the Strada Education Network, ECMC Group, and Gallup and featured in this article in The Hechinger Report, the numbers above indicate lasting impacts from the pandemic on attitudes towards higher education. As noted in the article, many states were seeing drops in enrollment even before the pandemic; 2020 and 2021 numbers are showing these drops extend to double digits, and are especially high at community colleges.

    Low-income students who are first generation to college are over-represented in these numbers, as are students of color. A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that “While undergraduate enrollment at two- and four-year colleges fell 9 percent from 2010 to 2020, the number of Black undergraduates fell nearly 17 percent. On at least 500 campuses, Black enrollment dropped by more than half.”

    These numbers line up with the reality of what we have been seeing and hearing from students and school staff, and contribute to New York City’s move to focus increasingly on careers in addition to college. While CARA is broadening our work in similar ways, we also continue to believe in the importance of making college possible for all young people, and especially those who have had the least access to it historically.

    Recent policy news, from President Biden’s announcement that up to $20,000 in loan debt will be cancelled for Pell grant recipients, and NY State’s announcement that TAP will be extended to part time students, may shift the calculus for students and families in more positive ways.

    In the year ahead, we will be keeping a close eye on how these trends and policy shifts are playing out in the high schools and colleges we partner with. No matter what, we will continue to be committed to training young people and improving school structures for college access and success.

  • Back to In-Person Conferences: CARA @NCAN in Atlanta

    In September, the National College Attainment Network (NCAN) hosted its first in person conference since 2019. With roughly 1200 educators from around the country convening in Atlanta, CARA was excited to see that many workshops focused not just on furthering equity in the college access/success space, but on doing so through amplifying student voice.

    Shalema Henderson, CARA’s Director of College Allies, presented a roundtable discussion titled Paving Professional Pathways: Using Peer Leadership to Close the Skills Awareness Gap. The session framed CARA’s peer-to-peer access and persistence model as a response to the challenges that many college students face finding career-relevant experiences and determining a career pathway. The session demonstrated how the training and work-based learning peer leaders experience provide them with a set of career-specific and transferable career-readiness skills that prepare them for careers in education, youth services, and counseling but also for a wider range of fields. The discussion centered on the ways in which the role of peer leader helps develop the skills needed to meet the needs of 21st century employers while also supporting institutions of higher education to expand meaningful career opportunities for students.

    One of the most enduring takeaways from the conference was the passion and commitment displayed by practitioners, policy makers, and funders – nationwide – who are invested in seeing educational opportunities be made accessible, affordable and equitable for all students. CARA is grateful to be learning with and from the larger field, and to be a contributor to it.