D214 launches game-changing program to support first-generation college students

By David Beery and Erin Brooks

Successfully preparing for college academically and financially poses a challenge for any high school student and family. The degree of difficulty rises sharply for low-income families and students who are the first in their family to navigate the maze of tasks and steps required.

Enter the District 214 Education Foundation, which has launched a game-changing program: the Next Generation Pathway to Completion, which is engaging students, families and District 214 alumni to provide broad-based strategic support for select first-generation students from the district’s high schools.

While planning and details have been in the works for months, the Next Generation Pathway to Completion officially launched with a commitment ceremony involving 10 students and their parents October 3 at the Forest View Education Center in Arlington Heights. Many of the students gave brief testimonials and shared their excitement about being part of the program. All signed letters of commitment stating their desire to follow through with the program -- and postsecondary education -- and the district’s desire to help them get there. 

“I am the child of immigrant parents. I’m the first person in my family to go to college, and it’s really stressful in a way,” said Serena Bekteshi of Prospect High School. “I’m so excited for this program because I have help. I have someone to help me go to where I want to be.

What sets this program -- done in partnership with the District’s Student Services department and under the guidance of a retired District 214 postsecondary counselor -- apart from similar efforts is its purposefully engagement of both first-generation students and their families. The students are identified as incoming juniors, and their parents are involved every step of the way.

Research shows students who participate in postsecondary mentorship programs are 14 percentage points more likely than their peers to still be enrolled in a four-year college or university two years after high school graduation. Beyond completion rates, mentoring programs have shown a positive increase in grade point average, attendance and general connection to the higher education institution. 

“We reviewed the best practices among many of the best mentoring programs to create the best of the best in District 214,” said Matt Liberatore, Director of Professional Learning and Student Services, who is helping oversee the program. “We are confident the program we are delivering through this Foundation partnership will be life-changing, and we’re so excited for the success.”

Eligible students must meet established criteria for grade point average, attendance, community service and financial need. The program includes guided academic programming through high school junior and senior years; extended and more frequent college visits for students and parents; and alumni mentorship in combination with parent support through up to four years of college. In addition, Education Foundation donors and partners are empowering scholarships for the students, along with opportunities for summer internships and paid employment.

More than 40 students applied for the initial cohort; 12 were selected, and represent every comprehensive high school in District 214. Their backgrounds and stories are diverse, but together they represent the next generation of successful District 214 graduates. 

To help support the program, visit www.214foundation.org or call Erin Brooks, Executive Director of the Foundation, at (847) 718-7688 to discuss giving or partnership options.

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