College ambition means burning the 1 a.m. oil

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Griselda Sanchez, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School
Ashtyn McKinney, Eden Prairie High School

College Possible helps low-income students make college a reality 

RECENT HIGH SCHOOL graduate Augusta Allen had good reason for staying up until 1 a.m. nearly every night.

The long hours and extra responsibility had an endgame: to improve her chances of getting into college.

As a junior, Allen signed up for a nonprofit program called College Possible Twin Cities, which aims to improve local low-income students’ chances of being accepted into college. Founded in Minnesota in 2000, College Possible Twin Cities, which is one of five College Possible locations in the U.S., does this through coaching and support.

Allen dove into the College Possible curriculum, which included assigned packets and homework to be completed over a matter of days. The long hours spent doing extra work – she also had her regular course work at St. Paul Central High School to complete – turned out to be well worth it when Allen was accepted into the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minn., on a scholarship.

“I signed up and they really gave me empowerment,” said Allen, who will be a freshman at St. Benedict.

College Possible students are pushed hard from the start. Allen went through a rigorous interview process and was accepted into the program as a junior at Central.

Once Allen was in, she began her busy weekly schedule. The school day would start early, at 7:30 a.m., and would end at 2 p.m.

 
Senior Mai Thao (left) with her coach Jiksa Tafara during a College Possible session in January at Robbinsdale Cooper High School.
 

Instead of going home like other students, she would head over to the College Possible classroom at Central two days a week. The College Possible coach and students would briefly describe their day before diving into a two-hour session about science and other subjects.

“You have a lot of motivation in the room,“ Allen said.

Sometimes, if Allen and her classmates were lucky, their coach would give them a 10-minute break. Other days it would be only five minutes.

After break, they would dive into another subject. Near the end of the two-hour session, there would be time for games, practice and questions about other subjects.

Between practice ACTs and the actual test, Allen has taken seven exams, she said. It may seem like a lot, but from a student’s first practice test to the final test, those who took the test last year have had about a 25 percent average increase in scores (per results that were returned in late July), according to Sarah Russell, a College Possible Twin Cities program coordinator.

Russell said the students’ desire to achieve makes her passionate about the work she does.

“I am encouraged by my students because they try so hard and want to succeed,” Russell said.

As a result of College Possible’s success, Russell said, the state of Minnesota is giving $500,000 to the program over the next two years. Another success of College Possible includes reaching its goal of 20,000 students in the program nationwide – a goal met four years in advance, said Russell.

There are more than 1,800 College Possible students in Minnesota. Russell has the opportunity to see students less fortunate than herself succeed.

“They were just amazing human beings that just didn’t know how to make it happen,” she said.

Even after Allen goes off to college, Russell said, her assigned coach will help her for the next four years. Ninety-eight percent of College Possible students get into college, according to College Possible. Eight percent of low-income students nationally earn a college degree, but College Possible students are ten times more likely to graduate college, according to Russell.

“We stick with them through high school and college,” Russell said.

Said Allen: “You build a really strong relationship.”

Allen said she feels the same eagerness about her new journey at St. Benedict as she did when she first began College Possible her junior year. She is thankful for all she has received from the program.

School nights were hard for Allen, but all the work paid off, she said.

“I’m really excited,” she said.

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