August is the time for new beginnings!
Traditionally, College Possible would be gearing up for a new program year with Kick-Off, an annual conference that brings together all seven College Possible sites. New AmeriCorps members would mingle with peers serving in states across the country, gain insight into the college access and success landscape and learn about the systemic barriers that spur educational equity work. Kick-Off is usually full of team-building, deep reflection, high-level training and boxed lunches.
This year looks a little different. Due to COVID-19, an in-person cross-site conference is no longer possible. Kick-Off has become Welcome Weeks, a three-week virtual onboarding and training for AmeriCorps members.
College Possible Minnesota is preparing to serve 100% of students virtually this fall. Sherene Judeh, Senior Director of Program Operations at College Possible Minnesota is optimistic for this approach in the upcoming program year:
“Our Navigate Program has been serving students virtually [since 2015]. Our fall Flagship (in-person) program in high school and college will continue to build off their demonstrated success!”
In spring 2020, learnings from the Navigate program allowed for a swift and seamless transition of in-person coaching to the virtual space. Since March, the College Possible office has worked from home, supporting over 6,000 students across Minnesota, including over 3,500 college students. Relationships with university and district partners, as well as school counselors and teachers across the state, has ensured College Possible students do not miss a beat with access to college programming and support.
This year is also emphasizing the importance of the College Possible AmeriCorps near-peer coaching model. Coaches are able to meet students where they are at and be responsive to a shifting higher education environment. “Our students will have the opportunity for a 1:1 session with their coaches monthly, access to new online resources and to participate in virtual training sessions in high school and in college,” said Judeh.
For some AmeriCorps coaches, this will be their second year of service, but the first year of virtual coaching full time. Below, High School Coach Carolyn Nuelle reflects on the changes and opportunities virtual coaching holds:
What opportunities are you seeing for this upcoming year, coaching remotely?
I see an opportunity for added flexibility that could really benefit some of our students. Last year, when I was working in high schools, many of my students had to manage tricky conflicts between our after-school College Possible sessions and their own work or family obligations.
Virtual coaching means that we can focus on one-on-one communication that fits more naturally with a student’s schedule.
As a returner who worked with students in-person last year, how do you think your coaching style and relationship building will change?
A major shift will be that most relationship building will happen on an individual basis, rather than in our typical group settings after school. Instead of playing games in session or greeting students in the hallway, I imagine that I’ll be chatting on the phone about how a student’s week has gone, or checking in over text. Virtual work will likely mean that my coaching style will focus even more on clear communication and adapting to solve new problems.
Welcome Weeks for College Possible Minnesota began Monday Aug. 10, 2020, kicking off the start of another program year. It is the culmination of a summer of hard work from the Leadership Team, who have designed and translated in-person trainings to a new virtual environment. Now, over 70 AmeriCorps coaches are gaining the knowledge, context and tools they will need to support students on their path to a college degree.
Fall programming for College Possible Minnesota students will begin in early September.