Catalyst Schools Support Students Beyond High School
Catalyst Maria, a K-12 school on the southwest side of Chicago, just welcomed their 4th class of seniors into alumnihood this June. Catalyst goes to great lengths to provide support and opportunities – their partnerships number over 40 – to their students the moment they enter the building. The issue they were seeing was not unique to Catalyst; once seniors graduated they were averaging 60-70% for college enrollment and persistence. While these numbers are above average for Chicago Public Schools, Catalyst did not feel it was fulfilling its ultimate benchmark – how our its students doing 5 years from now? 10 years from now? Our school wants strong SAT results, attendance, and a positive environment just as much as any school, but what is it all for if our graduates don’t take their experience at Catalyst and fully utilize it in their pursuit of becoming successful, independent, and happy adults?
One Catalyst teacher, Amanda Bates, knew something needed to change in regards to how we support our students once they leave our building. Having been a biology and Project Lead the Way teacher at Catalyst Maria for five years, she built strong relationships with students and maintained them after the students graduated. She saw that students weren’t persisting in college because of lack of knowledge about FAFSA and financial aid, understanding credits and how to meet satisfactory academic progress, and because some had difficulty adjusting to an atmosphere so different from high school. Amanda advocated for a full time alumni coordinator role at Catalyst and now is in her first year of her new role. She spends several days a week on college campuses helping alumni with paperwork, homework, and building relationships. For many, she was their science teacher for two years in a row!
The greatest support in getting our alumni program up and running came from our partner – UtmostU and the Gary Comer Youth Center. UtmostU is a non-selective program that works with primarily first generation college students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. We have 44 alumni from the class of 2019 in the program, and many of them were in Amanda’s advisory! These students are checked in with once a month not only by their UtmostU coach (we have 3 Catalyst post-secondary team members acting as coaches) but also from Catalyst alum themselves. Eight of our Catalyst alum serve as peer mentors as a part of UtmostU. These peer mentors attend the same universities as their incoming UtmostU mentees. They reach out to our students to ensure they have a friendly and familiar face helping them to adjust to campus life.
We can now confidently say that we help our students not only get into college, but to make it to their college graduation. We hope that with these new supports, our alumni feel they have the Catalyst family to support them even after they’ve walked across our stage each June.