On September 28th, nearly 2,000 Cleveland Metropolitan School District seniors from the District’s 27 high schools were bussed to the Cleveland State University Bert L. & Iris S. Wolstein Center to participate in the inaugural Cleveland Goes to College Kick-Off and College Fair. This was the first time that all seniors had been together in one place for an event of this magnitude – a truly remarkable feat!
Students were welcomed to the event by cheerleaders from Whitney Young before being ushered to their first of four breakout sessions related to the college-going process. One rotation, “Effort is Everything,” featured motivational speaker Arel Moodie, a graduate of Binghamton University who grew up in the housing projects of Brooklyn, New York. In his session, Moodie emphasized to students that they do not necessarily have to be the smartest or most talented person in the room to be successful – instead, students need to ensure they are putting forth the effort needed to achieve their goals. Students also heard from College Now Advisors Cierra Kelly and Amanda Pratt in their session, “What’s Next? Developing a Postsecondary Action Plan,” which gave students information about what they need to do during their senior year to plan for their postsecondary studies. CJ Harkness, director of diversity affairs and Ericka Walker-Smith, assistant director of financial aid, both from Baldwin Wallace University, hosted a session titled, “On Time and On Budget,” sharing information on what students need to do once enrolled in a postsecondary program to remain enrolled and graduate on-time. The final rotation – and the highlight of the day for many students – was a college fair featuring an impressive 23 two-year, four-year and technical institutions. Students were able to visit with as many schools as they liked, and filled out informational brochures from the variety of institutions in attendance, many of whom were Compact and NOCHE partners.
In addition to the four sessions, students were also provided lunch before hearing from College Now CEO Lee Friedman, CMSD CEO Eric Gordon, former Cleveland Brown and CMSD graduate Steve Sanders and Moodie, who also served as the event’s keynote speaker. Video messages were provided by Mayor Frank G. Jackson and the Executive Director of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher Initiative (and Cleveland native!) Eric Waldo.
Students left the event with knowledge of multiple postsecondary options and feelings of excitement about developing their postsecondary plan. One student commented that she “found a college closer [to home] that is actually more affordable than the colleges” to which she had previously applied, while another student “enjoyed the keynote speaker and learning about his history and everything he overcame.” A third student, motivated by the College Fair, left wanting “to take the extra step and further research all the colleges” he saw, and decide where he wants to attend after he graduates in the spring. Students also left with knowledge of important pieces of the college-going process, such as the FAFSA, which became available on October 1st. Many students signed up for text reminders from Reach Higher that will help them remember these important deadlines in the application process, while others posted photos on social media with the hashtag #CLEGoestoCollege.
The day-long event also demonstrated the importance of the community when it comes to creating a college-going culture for students. More than 50 volunteers from community-based organizations including College Now, NOCHE, CMSD, The Cleveland Transformation Alliance, Greater Cleveland Neighborhood Centers Association, Boys Hope Girls Hope, Urban Community School, Cuyahoga Community College, the YMCA, Scranton Road Ministries, Greater Cleveland Partnership, University Settlement and the Gund Foundation volunteered throughout the day and kept the event running smoothly.
The Kick-off was part of a city-wide effort to increase FAFSA completion rates by 5% from 2015 to 2017. It was funded in part by the National College Access Network’s FAFSA Challenge Grant.