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City program to offer middle schoolers an early push to college will reach 167 schools next year

Former New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña asks students from Pelham Gardens Middle School about their favorite part of touring John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The tour was part of the College Access for All's program.
Former New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña asks students from Pelham Gardens Middle School about their favorite part of touring John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The tour was part of the College Access for All's program.
Annie Ma

A program designed to offer middle school students an early glimpse into college life will expand to 167 schools in the upcoming school year, growing from the 22 middle schools that participated this spring, city officials said Monday.

Speaking at a tour with Pelham Gardens Middle School students at John Jay College of Criminal Justice on Monday, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña emphasized the importance of an early understanding of the college process. Fariña identified seventh grade, in particular, as a critical one in laying the groundwork for college, describing it as “the year where most of our students decide if they’re going to become students or not.”

The program’s larger goal is to give all of the city’s students an opportunity to visit a college campus during middle school. The city projects the program will grow to include all middle schools in 20 out of 32 districts by the 2017-18 year, reaching all schools the year after. The program is a piece of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s larger Equity and Excellence initiative announced last September.

The program partners with the City University of New York to provide college tours to participating middle school students. The tours, conducted on eight campuses during the spring pilot and set to expand to at least 10 in the fall, are designed to familiarize students with the college experience rather than any one school in particular. Officials said the program could expand to State University of New York campuses or private universities in the future.

In addition to college visits, the 22 schools with pilot programs offered training for parent coordinators and guidance counselors, along with “early college awareness” workshops for parents and students. In the fall, participating schools will receive funding to work with community-based organizations for expanded parent and student workshops with an increased emphasis on the high school admissions process. Schools will also each host one schoolwide college event such as a college fair.

The initiative, known as “College Access for All — Middle School,” will cost the city about $4.5 million next school year.

Pelham Gardens principal Denise Williams agreed with Chancellor Fariña that seventh grade is the year the track to college begins. Students’ test scores that year are the ones high schools use in their admissions processes, Williams said, which in turn affects college prospects. But starting discussions about college as early as seventh grade also gives students two years before high school to understand the process.

“This pilot lets students become well-versed in the college vocabulary,” Williams said. “They know now what a dorm is, what a campus is, which means they don’t have to start high school without basic knowledge.”

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