Posted August 11, 20191:54 pm
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Ismael Anaya is receiving more than just a college scholarship from Say Yes to Education.
He is also gaining a mentor working in his chosen field, accounting.
Anaya is one of about 850 recent Cleveland school district graduates using the new scholarships from New York-based Say Yes who will be assigned adults as mentors to help them adjust to college.
He was one of about 470 graduates attending a launch event Tuesday at the Cleveland Convention Center, where each student met their mentors for the first time.
Anaya, who will be attending Ohio State University in the fall, said he appreciates having a mentor in his field, who can help him with college, but also with shifting to work after he graduates.
“He’s going to help me prepare to have the business mentality,” he said.
That’s a major goal of the mentorship program, a key way Say Yes aims to help students along with helping pay tuition, said Lee Friedman, executive director of College Now Greater Cleveland, a non-profit that counsels Cleveland kids in their college searches. College Now also will administer the scholarships.
“This is an opportunity for students to connect . . . with adults that can help plug you in, give you guidance around careers,” Friedman told the students. “Remember, you’re going to college to get an education but you’re also going so that at the other end of it there’s a career that you’ve chosen for you.”
Cleveland became the fourth city to partner with Say Yes to Education early this year, joining Buffalo and Syracuse, N.Y., and Guilford Country (Greensboro), N.C. The program guides communities in providing free college tuition — at certain schools and after use of other grants — as well as supports that help students graduate from high school, gain admittance to college and succeed there.
This spring’s graduating class is the first eligible for the scholarships, which city and school district officials hope will reverse recent declines in college attendance. About 54% of Cleveland high school graduates attended some school after graduating in 2011 but that slid to 40% for the class of 2017.
College Now and Say Yes Cleveland officials expect a “modest increase” in college enrollment this fall, said Say Yes spokesman Jon Benedict, but they decline to offer predictions. They won’t know true numbers until tuition bills are due after colleges finish their drop/add period for courses in September and October.
As of Friday, 760 of 2019’s 1,903 eligible graduates had completed their full scholarship applications, with another 650 completing all but one of the required steps. Those steps include submitting federal financial aid forms and completing a mentorship orientation.
More students are finishing their applications each week, Say Yes reports.
Other portions of the Say Yes program are coming together as the Cleveland school district is about to start its school year this week.
- Say Yes has hired 16 “family support specialists” to work in the first group of schools to receive student support services like tutoring, afterschool and summer programs. The specialist will work full-time in their schools to connect students and families to outside social services they need, while also organizing programs for all students at the school.
- Cuyahoga County Council and the school district recently reached agreement on how to split salary costs for the specialists.
- Say Yes received 70 applications from agencies and non-profit organizations in the city to provide afterschool programs for those 16 schools. Benedict said Say Yes will have a list for schools to pick from in a week or two.
- Say Yes Cleveland is setting up offices in the Cleveland Public Library downtown, using office space in the underground walkway between the two library buildings. Though Buffalo, in particular, lets the public come to its downtown Say Yes office with questions, most here will be referred to College Now at 1500 West 3rd St., Suite 125, or to the scholarship hotline at 216-454-5400.
- Say Yes staff is also preparing materials like posters and handouts to display in schools or to give to parents to better promote the scholarships.
- Say Yes Cleveland has applied for non-profit status, but the application is still pending.
- As in other Say Yes cities, schools will promote free legal clinics available to all students and their families on issues like access to public benefits, barriers to employment, consumer, tax, domestic violence, eviction, foreclosure, family law and truancy. In other Say Yes cities, some of the clinics have been in schools, but Benedict said some families avoided airing their issues at the school.
Say Yes Cleveland will instead promote clinics already offered by the Cleveland Bar Association, the Legal Aid Society and Scranton Road ministries by sharing information at the schools and through the family support specialists.
The mentorships are an extra support that Cleveland is adding, or at least going far beyond other Say Yes cities. Buffalo, the city with the most direct comparison to Cleveland, has been operating for several years but mentors just 150 graduates a year.
“It’s not nearly this scope,” said Gene Chasin, the national president of Say Yes. “Cleveland is unique.”
Cleveland’s mentorship program drew almost as many mentors as Buffalo has, 110, from school district staff alone.
The hope, said district CEO Eric Gordon, is that mentors will build “social capital” for students — connections and references and insight into opportunities — along with the cash capital of the scholarships.
As he explained it to students and mentors at Tuesday’s event, modest but regular contact will make a difference.
“Two e-mails per month, three meetings per year, two lives changed forever,” he said.