School of Education to Launch College Readiness Program in Bridgeport

Student looking over shoulder while in class with friends.
Student looking over shoulder while in class with friends.

A grant supporting a college readiness program for two Bridgeport schools – Bassick High and Longfellow School – has been awarded by the Lloyd G. Balfour Foundation, Bank of America, N.A., Trustee to the University of Connecticut for an initiative to be run by the Neag School of Education’s CommPACT Schools Program.

The $368,000 grant will go to a four-year program with a preparatory curriculum called “CollegeEd” that will be targeted to at-risk students in grades 7-12 and administered by teachers, school professionals, and Neag School counseling faculty and graduate students. The program will build on the Neag-generated CommPACT Schools reform that seeks to close Connecticut’s achievement gap – the largest in the nation.

“The Lloyd G. Balfour Foundation is pleased to continue to support the Neag School of Education’s public school reform efforts in Connecticut,” says Michealle Larkins, foundation officer with Bank of America. “The CommPACT College Readiness Program in Bridgeport will help normalize the attainment of a college degree for underserved students and provide them with a step-by-step guide to attaining a degree. This work complements the Balfour Foundation’s mission of promoting college readiness, access, and success for underserved populations.

“I’m very, very excited,” says Robert Colbert, principal investigator on the project and an associate professor in the counseling program at Neag, “in particular because in our area – school counseling – it’s very difficult to get grant funding for what school counselors do.”

Colbert says intensive lobbying in Washington has begun to raise interest in college readiness efforts. “This puts us in a good place,” he says, “so that when the federal government awards some large grants in the future, we’re ready.”

About 1,900 students at Bassick High School and Longfellow School will participate over the life of the program. Since being reorganized as CommPACT schools and improving their state test scores, both Bridgeport schools, where the student base is 95 percent poverty level and more than 90 percent students of color, have “Safe Harbor” status under No Child Left Behind.

“Expansion to Bassick High School is a logical extension,” the application for the grant reads. “It will be the first high school in the state to participate in CommPACT, developing the ‘pipeline’ aspect of the initiative.”

This latest gift from the Balfour Foundation follows a $195,000 grant to the CommPACT Schools initiative in 2009. “The Balfour Foundation’s consistent engagement demonstrates a strong commitment to increasing opportunities for all students, and we truly appreciate this ongoing partnership,” says Chris Petkovich, director of foundation relations at the UConn Foundation.

The heart of the program is a three-stage curriculum: (1) Who Am I? Students will explore their own interests and life goals; (2) Where Am I Going? Students then will identify life and career goals; and (3) How Do I Get There? Students will investigate the importance of college, understand the planning process and build a plan to get to college and to succeed there.

In addition, the program will provide an open house weekend in the fall and spring for a select group of Bassick students and their families. A larger group of seniors from Bassick will be invited to a one-day fall visit to the Storrs campus for a tour and conversation with UConn students from Bridgeport.

The college readiness program mirrors the spirit of collaboration modeled by CommPACT Schools, which are autonomous public schools run with the support of community, parents, administrators, children, and teachers. This new idea, which will be launched this school year and continue through 2014-15, will create a partnership between the Neag School, the Bridgeport partner schools, UConn Admissions, and peer mentors from Student Support Services.

Colbert and Rachelle Pérusse, co-principal investigator and also an associate professor in the counseling program at the Neag School, will oversee the project, visit the schools twice a month, and conduct assessment seminars. The team includes Michele Femc-Bagwell, co-principal investigator and director of CommPACT; a doctoral student who will coordinate the program; and graduate students in the Neag counseling program who will do the classroom teaching. Lawrence Williams, interim associate director of admissions at UConn, will coordinate the open houses for Bridgeport students and families, along with Bidya Ranjeet, director of Student Support Services at UConn. Williams is a graduate of Longfellow, Bassick, and UConn, where he served in the peer mentoring program.

Colbert says that although “the main goal is to get them to go to college,” he is excited about making the connection between UConn and students at Bassick. In recent years, about three to five incoming freshmen are from the Bridgeport high school, and UConn hopes to increase that number to 10 after the first year of the program.

“We’re ambitious. We’re going to try to double it,” Colbert says.

The program seeks to lay the groundwork for long-term use of CollegeEd, a curriculum developed by the College Board. The college readiness program “is designed to set young people on the path to college, to employment, and to becoming engaged citizens,” the project outline reads.