Essex, NY — “You can come from anywhere and succeed in what you believe,” said Edna McCants, graduate of Harlem’s Wadleigh Secondary School.
McCants, who graduated from Mercy College last May, is giving back through College For Every Student (CFES), the same program that helped her prepare for, gain access to, and succeed in college.
CFES is unique as the only national non-profit that works with both urban and rural K-12 schools throughout the U.S. to build and support mentoring programs that move low-income students toward college success.
“This year, 20,000 students are participating in our mentoring program,” said CFES President & CEO Rick Dalton. “We have a robust program that uses community leaders, educators, employees at Fortune 500 companies, older peers and college students as mentors.”
In Tampa, mentors from the University of South Florida’s Biomedical Sciences Department, are among the 2,000 college students nationwide who mentor underserved students in CFES schools.
“I want to provide students with the same opportunities that I had as a CFES Scholar,” said Booker High School (Sarasota, FL) grad Jasmine Jordan, who will be attending medical school in the fall. “Seeing students achieve their goals and aspirations is what makes mentoring so rewarding.”
It’s an experience that research has shown benefits both the mentor and mentee in taking steps towards college success.
“While younger students learn from a peer that is close enough in age to relate to life experiences and academic challenges,” said CFES Vice President of Programs Tara Smith, “older peers gain self confidence and build leadership skills.”
David Dames, a junior at Life Sciences Secondary School in New York City and captain of the basketball team is one of 10,000 CFES peer mentors.
“When you lead, people follow. This is leading people in a positive direction,” he explained. Dames currently has three mentees.
In some cases, that “positive direction” comes from Fortune 500 corporations like EY that are making mentoring a company-wide priority.
Gabe Schreiber, an EY volunteer mentor, uses social media, email, and texts to stay connected with his mentees.
“With the advancement of technology, whether I’m in my Denver office or on the road, I can make sure that my mentee is staying on top of his goals,” said Schreiber.
While mentor-mentee relationships vary in grade, age, career and medium, the global message is reinforced with every correspondence- college is the future for every student.”
The proof is in the numbers. Ninety-five percent of 12th grade CFES Scholars go on to college.
According to a study conducted by the University of Michigan, 98 percent of CFES students showed significant gains in academic achievement and other measures that lead to college success.
For six years, the community-based mentoring program at Willsboro Central School in upstate NY has been, in Superintendent Stephen Broadwell’s words, “instrumental in getting students on the path to college.”
“We have twenty mentors from the local community that meet with our juniors and seniors each month to help them through the college application process,” said Broadwell. “Our students find tremendous value in working with someone who is neither a teacher nor their parent. It’s amazing how quickly the bonds form.”
In addition, to a retired college president, local author, and business leaders, four CFES staff members are helping Willsboro students make college lists, secure financial aid, and research scholarships.
Last year, Kim Calhoun, a CFES Program Coordinator was paired with her mentee, Lilly Kelly. “I care a lot about Lilly,” said Calhoun. “She is a talented young lady with enormous potential. She just needs to figure out her post high school plans and I’m helping her do that.”
Recently, Calhoun took a five-hour road trip with Kelly to visit Colby Sawyer College in New Hampshire — a college Calhoun thought would be a good fit, given Kelly’s interest in the arts.
“Lilly keeps me on my toes,” laughed Calhoun. “I told her I would be with her every step of the way – from completing the college application, to helping her find financial aid and scholarship opportunities.”
“Life changing,” said Kelly about her trip to Colby Sawyer. “Being there, on campus made me realize that I can do this. I need to do this.”
Right before Christmas, Colby Sawyer accepted Kelly, and she received a scholarship that will cover her tuition costs.
“We’re mentoring for college success,” said Calhoun. “But Lilly (Kelly) is the one inspiring me.”