For the past couple of years WHSAD has partnered with Creative Connections, which is a youth development program founded in 2005 that focuses on helping NYC public school students of all ages prepare for college and career readiness. The Creative Connections educators have been working with grades 9-12, helping them not only to focus on college and careers, but also giving them the tools to pursue these objectives. Since coming to WHSAD, Creative Connections has helped countless seniors secure financial aid and go to the colleges that best suit them. Over the past week, I have had the opportunity to talk to some of the educators in our school to talk about the importance of their work and put a spotlight on some of the other opportunities they are opening up for all WHSAD students, all of which further help students begin their lives as adults.
The first and biggest facet of creative connections is the team of people who work on college preparedness. I don’t think I can explain what they do better than the club leader herself, Ms. Naliaka. “Creative Connections provides the tools necessary for students to succeed in life after high school! The success coaches work with grades 9 – 12, focusing on aspirations, career goals, college goals, and then finally applying for college, internships, financial aid, and jobs. With the seniors, we are all hands on deck. We focus on every single step of the college application process from creating your college list to picking and committing to a school. We also focus on how to succeed in college once you get there. For example, how do you pick your classes, or make money, or apply for jobs? We try to help the students figure out as many aspects as possible so when they arrive at college they are well equipped and informed.”
Ms Naliaka and her colleagues are what are known as success coaches and typically, they would go into a school and work with a single grade of students on their career goals. According to Naliaka, however, WHSAD is a unique partnership in the sense that students receive that counseling every year they are here. Having that consistency helps students prepare for life after high school long before that moment arrives. That consistency is crucial when you see how strenuous college applications can be on many students.
I asked Naliaka what proves to be the hardest part of the application process for students? Her answer was that it’s a mix of many factors in and out of school that vary student to student. She said, “A lot of seniors have so many things going on… It is very hard to all of a sudden just begin to work on something as vast as college applications in the middle of all of that. So it is very hard to get students to turn things in on time because they have to do things they have never done before like ask for recommendations, write a personal statement, figure out parents’ taxes, study for and take SATs, etc.” For students though there are many coaches on standby to help with the confusion all week long.
Now of course there are many students who don’t necessarily want to go to college or are considering alternatives such as picking up a trade. Regardless of that, Creative Connections still provides these students with the resources to find that perfect path. And they are still encouraged to take advantage of the opportunities for financial aid and grants. When I asked what they do for kids who don’t consider college at first she said, “Last year almost every single student who did not want to go to college ended up committing to a college. That being said I have compiled a list of resources and activities for those who want to choose a different path. Students are encouraged to look through the resources and find 5 different programs or jobs they are interested in.”
All in all, Creative Connections has been a very important part of WHSAD over the past few years. So much so that once a week seniors dedicate an entire class period working with the coaches to find and apply for colleges, grants, financial aid, and other career opportunities. Every student is guided through this process even if they end up not wanting to go to college. According to Naliaka, “Students who are not interested in college are still encouraged to apply to CUNY even if they do not want to go because it is free. They can always reject or defer (wait a bit) if they are not ready to commit to a school.”
A problem many cite with college applications is that sometimes students don’t look for schools that best fit them, and end up thinking that college is not a viable option. But the Creative Connections coaches make sure to remove that line of thought from students by going step by step with them. And for students who need extra help, this year they have the College support club to ensure that all students get the support they may need.
All seniors should have access to her club via their Google Classroom, though for more information on that club or any other students can email firstname.lastname@example.org to get in contact with her or any other success coaches at WHSAD.
As mentioned previously, Creative Connections coaches have just started some other clubs that help students get ready for life after WHSAD. The first of which is the Entrepreneurship 101 club spearheaded by Mr. Ogunlowo. Many WHSAD students, myself included, have voiced our opinions regarding the current school curriculum. Students feel that money skills such as saving, investing and management should be essential to any student in high school. As a result of the lack of this sort of training, many students feel underprepared leaving high school. The Entrepreneurship club teaches all of those skills and more.
When talking to Mr. Ogunlowo, he had similarly expressed the need for more finance based education in the curriculum. Ogunlowo is an entrepreneur himself which is what drove him to create this club. The things students can expect to learn in this club as explained by Mr. Ogunlowo are, “What it means to be an entrepreneur, we look at other successful entrepreneurs and try to learn from them. We learn how to pitch your business as well as create a pitch deck (which is essentially a presentation made for potential investors), we learn how to do market research and how to create a small business plan.” The hope for this club is to be able to help students learn skills that will definitely help them in the future. “It is such an important part of life and is something that is rarely taught in class” says Mr. Ogunlowo. They are teaching students who want to be investors or entrepreneurs the basic skills required to do so successfully. And while college is important and a viable option, this revamped version of the entrepreneurship club gives students who join another option for financial success post highschool. And the importance of knowing how to manage your money cannot be understated.
They meet Fridays at 2 pm and are open to all students. It’s never too late to join the club. If you want to join the club directly here is the google meet link.
Though if you want to learn more about it you can contact the club leader at email@example.com
Finally the last club that I want to spotlight is the female empowerment club from Ms. Saechao. The Female Empowerment club was only put together three weeks ago, yet the enthusiasm behind it is already high. Similar to the other clubs, this one is all about giving students life skills to help them outside of school. Amanda describes the club as, “The Female Empowerment Club aims to provide young ladies with a safe space within the school facility where students can connect with other students, creatively address issues they feel passionately about, and learn how to artistically, professionally and genuinely express themselves.”
One other thing all these clubs have in common is the passion behind them all. Every club leader expressed the love and need for what they did. Amanda is no different in this regard. Just in recruiting alone she was able to quickly find many young women in the school who shared her passion. In regards to the process she had said, “I was very open and honest about what this club’s intentions were so every young lady who joined did it because they felt a connection to our mission. Therefore, engagement has been high and, as a result, the young ladies are already teaching me and each other so much.” The goal, as is with the several other clubs, is to give students skills they can’t really hone during regular class. Female empowerment
specializes in learning how to use your voice to express one-self. A set of skills that becomes increasingly more vital as the world is becoming more connected.
To cap off my interview I asked what it meant to be able to help students during these times. Amanda said, “I am extremely grateful to be the host of this club and being able to provide opportunities for participants to connect with the WHSAD student community of positive, powerful young women, beyond the classroom. Female Empowerment is essential for gender equity – something the world desperately needs.”
The club meets on Tuesdays from 4:00pm – 5:00pm. For more information and for the link you can email Amanda at firstname.lastname@example.org