Postsecondary Readiness Initiative
The Postsecondary Readiness Initiative (PRI) addresses the academic challenges faced by the North of Howard community by promoting academic achievement and postsecondary aspirations and readiness. The initiative is born out of Family Matters’ efforts to focus on critical areas that warrant special attention and to demonstrate their outcomes across programs.
PRI is a new component of the organization’s comprehensive youth development programming. Intrinsic to Family Matters’ youth development strategy are: shared leadership between staff and youth; an emphasis on young people’s strengths and gifts; and a partnership with their parents and other adult allies. PRI provides a framework through which tenets of positive youth development strengthen students in the following areas:
- Understanding of Personal Gifts and Interests: Students complete an online assessment that includes an inventory of strengths, interests, aspirations, and areas of learning that they want to explore at Family Matters. This information will guide the content of workshops, field trips and other activities. It will also be used to engage the gifts of Board members and other volunteers as well as to identify gaps in the organization’s resources. The process will promote the student-led and student-centered approach that is at the heart of Family Matters.
- Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Skills: Students learn and practice the Principles of Leadership, which promote trust, empathy, active listening, thoughtful decision-making, and responsibility for personal choices. The Chicago Public Schools and the Illinois Board of Education benchmark SEL skills in their learning plans, noting that there is significant evidence that social and emotional intelligence undergirds a student’s ability to be effective in all the critical areas of life, including school.
- Awareness of Options and Understanding Opportunities: Students will be exposed to an array of postsecondary options and opportunities via interactive workshops, field trips and job-shadowing experiences. Foci will include jobs and careers, and postsecondary learning (e.g., job-training and apprentice programs and college and university degree programs). Students will learn the steps necessary to achieve their goals. PRI will provide an awareness of the perceived benefits and drawbacks of various options, the financial costs associated with them, and the methods of funding (including those to avoid, such as credit card loans). Students will receive assistance in completing applications; writing essays; filing for financial aid; and with other activities, such as college visits.
- Ability to Utilize Goal Setting: Students assume leadership of the process by establishing personal academic and postsecondary-related SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-based) goals that dictate their targeted, individual support and, ideally, inform their decision making. The goals will be monitored and supported by staff and coaches via one-on-one and small group quarterly check-ins. While the Illinois Board of Education identified goal setting as an essential learning objective, students at Family Matters consistently report that their application of the process at the organization is their first experience of rigorously applying the concept.
- Academic Competence and Confidence: Students will be supported as “whole learners” as they deepen their understanding of the ways in which education can support and expand their interests, gifts and talents. Programs will continue to cultivate the joy of life-long learning via activities that promote critical thinking, experiential learning, and a sense of wonder. Programs focus on academic achievement by supporting healthy study habits and dedicating resources for homework assistance. Program staff will monitor students’ grades, course enrollment (for high school students) and meet/communicate with teachers as appropriate. Students will also receive support in respectfully advocating for themselves at school and in demonstrating those habits and behaviors that promote academic proficiency and excellence. Students who would benefit from additional support will be directed to one of Community Tutoring’s initiatives, or referred to an external program. Students with learning challenges will continue to receive Individual Educational Plan (IEP) advocacy support via Community Tutoring. Combined, these efforts are intended to ensure that students maintain a level of academic proficiency that maximizes the options that will be available to them.
- Connecting to Resources (now and the future): Partnerships will be a critical component of PRI. Approximately 100 tutors/mentors volunteer regularly with the organization to provide homework assistance and other types of individualized academic support. The organization will draw from, and continue to expand, its pool of volunteers and partnerships (including Board members and alumni) in order to bring resources (scholarships, internships, overseas experiences, and expertise) to students and their parents so that they may develop their own resources. The organization continues to identify experts (e.g., employees from Kaplan Learning Center and the Nurturing Wisdom Program) to conduct parent and student postsecondary preparation workshops (on topics such as SAT/ACT preparation, selecting a good fit among the postsecondary options, etc.) on a pro-bono basis.
PRI is a collaborative effort among Family Connections, the Teen Programs and Community Tutoring (specifically Evening Tutoring in which students are paired one-on-one with tutors/mentors). PRI will provide intensive, individualized, targeted academic support in order to foster academic achievement and postsecondary-bound BASK (Behaviors, Attitudes, Skills and Knowledge). Particular attention will be given to students in the 6th and 12th grades – critical junctures at which students make choices that significantly impact their ability and readiness to continue their education after high school.
Parents who have students in the PRI have the opportunity to participate, with their children, in college planning sessions, workshops, college visits, career envisioning, and other college-readiness activities. Family Matters is committed to supporting parents in being educational advocates in their households, understanding the invaluable impact of parental support in a student’s life. Staff works closely with parents and teachers to ensure that they comprise a unified, well-informed team of support.