This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
by Isaac Riddle
At Kensington High School for Creative and Performing Arts on Friday, representatives from 40 colleges and postsecondary institutions came to the school’s first annual college fair, open to all students in the District’s five high schools in the Kensington area.
Like most District high schools this school year, KCAPA lacked a full-time counselor for the first two months — before high school counselors were restored by the District after the release of additional funding.
But the school has been fortunate enough to have another counselor dedicated to helping students with college admissions and coordinating a college fair at a time when guidance was scarce.
That counselor, Jocelyn Rodriguez, was able to remain at the school because her position is paid for not by the School District, but through a partnership between the Philadelphia Education Fund and AmeriCorps VISTA.
Kensington CAPA is one of five schools that receive a college counselor through the Education Fund’s College Access Program. The others are Olney, Robeson, Bartram, and Roxborough high schools.
Besides the college coordinators in each of the five partner high schools, College Access also has an office that is open to all students in the Gallery mall in Center City. In the office, students receive help in filling out financial aid forms and college applications. The center also provides low-cost SAT tutoring and free college advising.
The college fair at KCAPA was made possible by the efforts of Rodriguez and the school’s AmeriCorps VISTA member, Julia Boyer.
“There wouldn’t be a college fair if there wasn’t a College Access counselor and an AmeriCorps VISTA member in the school,” said Rodriguez. “The staff wouldn’t have the time to organize such a big event.”
The shortage of school counselors in the District this year has made it more difficult for school staff to help seniors navigate the college application process and plan for postsecondary education.
At KCAPA, thanks to the presence of a full-time college counselor, the rate of seniors being accepted to college has continued to climb. According to school records, 53 percent of last year’s seniors were accepted to a college or university, which was a 3-point increase from the year before. Although it’s still early in the college application season, 67 percent of the school’s seniors have already applied to college, with three having been accepted through early decision.
The school’s seniors appreciate the benefits of having a full-time college counselor.
“She is my guide and a lifesaver — without her I would not have known what to do with the rest of my life,” said Omran Muatan, a senior at Kensington CAPA, who has applied to Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania.
“She helps me do the things I need to do, and if I get lost, she puts me back on track,” said Kensington CAPA senior Alfred Oquendo. He has applied to multiple state colleges and has already been accepted to Indiana University of Pennsylvania in Western Pennsylvania.
Rodriguez and Boyer spent months planning the fair and ensuring that as many colleges as possible attended. Universities like Penn State, Temple, Lincoln and most of the state-run colleges were expected to attend, as were area community colleges, trade schools and gap-year programs like City Year and other AmeriCorps programs.
Rodriguez and Boyer work at Kensington CAPA full-time. While Rodriguez focuses on preparing students for college, Boyer works to secure grants to fund programs that the school lost to budget cuts.
The college fair, open to students from grades 9-12, gives students in the earlier high school grades a chance to learn about college and other postsecondary options well before their senior year.
"Having a local college and career fair makes ‘going to college’ tangible. All of our students will be able to have access to a college recruiter or admissions counselor,” said Debora Carrera, principal of Kensington CAPA. “Having the recruiters in their neighborhood shows the students that colleges are interested in them.”
Isaac Riddle is an intern at the Notebook.