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Creating a College Culture Nationwide: Big Vision in a Small Town

John was lucky. He received guidance that’s accepted as a given among students in affluent communities – but with an interesting twist. Over the course of several months he learned about his potential to influence others. He did this through service activities to improve his school and community, through participation at a national conference to foster his own leadership potential, and with constant encouragement to share his aspirations with other students in the Willsboro community.

These activities were integral to his involvement in College for Every Student (CFES). All of the students we mentor are expected to mentor others. All get hands-on help to improve their grades and apply for college. And all have opportunities to develop the discipline and leadership skills that help them succeed once they get there.

Thanks to thousands of volunteers and partnerships with 200 PreK-12 schools and 210 colleges, we work with 20,000 students in 24 states. But some of our most important activities will now take place in Essex, a town of 600 people in upstate New York. Through our CFES Center, space to conduct trainings and workshops, in Essex, we expect to involve, virtually and in-person, thousands of students, families and K-16 educators in experiences that bridge gaps in aspirations and achievement for low-income students nationwide. In fact, our new space will allow CFES to double the number of students we serve by 2020.

While the futures of our students will continue to be the top priority, we intend to have an echo effect in the greater Adirondack region. Our center will bring 15 jobs to the area, and our workshops will bring hundreds of young people, educators and community leaders to the town of Essex each year. With support from our staff, we will help parents, families and community leaders to embrace their role in promoting the value of college. We want younger children to follow in the footsteps of their older, college-bound siblings. And we want the residents of Essex and neighboring communities to become part of a college-going culture throughout the region.

Think I’m dreaming? Then talk to John Pollock. A few months into his own college journey, he reached back to two longtime friends who had dropped out of college and convinced them to give it another try. His “if I can do it, you can too” attitude paid big dividends. Today they room together at SUNY Canton. They all have GPAs above 3.6. They’re all on track to graduate and get good jobs. And together they offer a great example of what can happen when aspirations are instilled and fulfilled.

Rick Dalton is President and CEO of College for Every Student.

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