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Program Readies Norwalk Students For College Applications

Rising Norwalk juniors do a shared reading of a text on the costs and benefits of college as part of the College Edge Program.
Rising Norwalk juniors do a shared reading of a text on the costs and benefits of college as part of the College Edge Program. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Tristan Fields

NORWALK, Conn. – The college application process is a daunting task, but a new program for Norwalk students is designed to make it less overwhelming.

The College Edge Program is operated by Higher Education Literacy Professionals (HELP) and is run in conjunction with the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program. About 50 students are enrolled in the program, which meets Saturdays this summer at the Norwalk Public Library and the SoNo Branch Library for weekly workshops covering topics such as picking schools, securing recommendations and writing personal statements.

“It’s designed to help kids at any grade level prepare for the college application process,” said Tristan Fields, president and CEO of HELP.

The program deals with students at different points in their college application process, from seniors who are getting their applications ready to sophomores who are years away from applying.

“With sophomores the focus is on making the right choices in terms of course load and planning out their high school careers. It’s about changing the students’ mindset so that instead of thinking of college their junior or senior year, they’re thinking about it earlier on,” Fields said.

Sophomores are encouraged to start thinking about what activities and classes they want to take part in, and are also urged to use their schools’ resources, such as guidance counselors and forging relationships with teachers who may give them recommendations in a few year.

For juniors, the workshops look at what the college application looks like, what kinds of schools they would want to apply to, questions to ask when taking tours, as well as some test preparation. For seniors, the focus is on getting their materials ready, finding schools that match their preferences and eligibility, and working on personal statements.

The workshops are a mixture of lectures and projects, and are led by current college students who are able to offer their personal experience and act as mentors for the high school students. Fields said that the program is particularly helpful for students who are hoping to become the first generation in their family to attend college.

“Early college awareness is more present in homes where kids have parents who went to college. If they don’t have that, it can be difficult to get that information,” he said.

Fields, who lives in Norwalk, launched HELP last year with fellow University of New Haven alumni Latif Brown, Jeffery Kennerly and Jermaine Miller. This is the first year they have offered the College Edge Program. Fields said that Darlene Young, director of the Summer Youth Employment Program, wanted to find a way to help the kids who were enrolled in the employment program also prepare academically for college. Fields said he is hoping to partner with other community organizations to offer similar programs throughout the year.

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