Submitted by Nate Jeffries ’20, one of 30 students doing community-based research this summer as a Fellow in the Upstate Institute Summer Field School
This summer, I have the opportunity to work with Young Scholars, an educational nonprofit based at Utica College. Young Scholars identifies 6th graders who may benefit from academic support services and works with them from 7th through 12th grade to ensure they have the resources necessary to excel in junior and senior high. These resources include tutoring throughout the school year, summer school programs for rising 7th, 8th, and 9th graders, and internship opportunities for high school students and recent high school graduates. If Young Scholars students graduate with an advanced regents diploma, they are automatically offered admission and a financial aid package to Utica College, a promise which is made starting in seventh grade. The motivating power of such a promise is immense – to tell a 7th grader whose parents may not have even graduated high school that they can go to college has a powerful impact. The past several years have seen a one hundred percent high school graduation rate for Young Scholars students, demonstrating the enormous success of the organization in fulfilling its mission.
The Utica community has a large refugee population, and many of the students Young Scholars serves are first generation citizens. Candidates for the program are identified by their 6th grade teachers, and each cohort is selected from that group of students. The selection process is highly stringent – the 2019 cohort of about 70 students was selected from a pool of almost 250. The demographic of students and parents creates an interesting set of barriers to parental participation in their children’s education – language and transportation, for example. Many of the parents of students served by YS work multiple jobs in order to support their families and have very little free time to attend school functions and educational events. A growing body of research points to the importance of engaging parents in education – success for many students is almost impossible without it.
My project this summer revolves around solving the parent engagement problem at Young Scholars. I have spent some time coming up with solutions for the issues which prevent parent engagement that could work for Young Scholars; text services with a translating feature to enable easier communication with parents, different forms of media to disperse information, and events which can bring parents together to engage with Young Scholars, to name a couple. Although it is practically impossible to solve an issue as tremendous as parent engagement in just ten weeks, I hope that the ideas I generate and the solutions I implement can be a step in the right direction and can help improve the way Young Scholars gets parents engaged in children’s education.
I was drawn to this project for several reasons. I spent the summer of my sophomore year serving as a camp counselor with Americorps at a non-profit in Pittsburgh, and I wanted to see what I could achieve working from behind-the-scenes in more of an administrative position, so I sought a fellowship with Young Scholars. I am proud of the work I have done for the organization so far, and I have learned a lot about working at nonprofits and organizations in general. Working with Young Scholars this summer has helped me clarify my career goals and learn valuable skills related to the logistics of running a large organization, all while giving me the opportunity to give back to a greater cause.