College financial aid forms now part of Kennedy High curriculum

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College financial aid forms now part of Kennedy High curriculum
Miguel Molina of the Richmond Promise program helps Kennedy High seniors fill out their financial aid applications ahead of the March 2 deadline on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019.

The computer lab at Kennedy High in Richmond bustled on a recent Thursday morning with students working on their college financial aid applications.

For the first time this year, filling out college financial aid forms has become part of the classroom curriculum for these high school seniors. Veteran Kennedy High teacher Jeff Pollock, who educates all 190 members of the senior class in economics and government, allots time in the computer lab for students to learn about opportunities to finance for college, including filling out the Federal Student Aid (FASFA) or California Dream Act application ahead of the March 2 deadline. Failure to do so will not only impact their ability to get college financial aid, but also their grades.

It is part of an ongoing effort by the ever-evolving Richmond Promise program to create a college going – and college success – culture in Richmond and North Richmond.

Established in 2014, the Richmond Promise provides up to $6,000 in college scholarship funds to all high school seniors from Richmond and North Richmond to attend a two or four year college or university or a career technical education program. Richmond Promise recipients also receive support and guidance from their middle school years all the way through to college graduation. The program is funded by a $35 million investment from a $90 million community benefits agreement between Chevron Richmond and the city of Richmond, connected to the Chevron Richmond Refinery Modernization Project.

In order for students to be eligible for Richmond Promise funds, they are required to fill out FASFA and California Dream Act application in advance. The aim is to connect underserved students with as much financial aid as possible to ensure that college is financially attainable.

Getting students to fill out the complicated financial aid forms isn’t easy. While the rate of seniors completing the forms is between 50 and 60 percent in the West Contra Costa Unified School District, it was 44-percent last year at Kennedy High. Data shows that students who complete their financial aid applications have a significantly higher chance of enrolling and attending the first day of class at college, said Miguel Molina, the College Access and Communication Coordinator for the Richmond Promise.

“A lot of our students and parents don’t know how to navigate the financial aid applications at home, and that’s why it’s important to bring it into the classroom, give them a chance to work on it and learn the skills to do this,” Molina said.

The Richmond Promise sends Molina, along with Richmond Promise College Ambassadors into the computer lab to help students fill out the forms. The program regularly communicates with parents to ensure students can satisfy application requirements, such as providing tax information and the student’s social security number if applicable.

A slightly different in-classroom model was also installed at De Anza High this year, with ambassadors working alongside teachers in workshops to assist students with the forms. The program assists all seniors in filling out their financial aid forms, not just those who are eligible for Richmond Promise funds, Molina said.

A slightly different in-classroom model was also installed at De Anza High this year, with ambassadors working alongside teachers in workshops to assist students with the forms. The program assists all seniors in filling out their financial aid forms, not just those who are eligible for Richmond Promise funds, Molina said.
 
If the program leads to positive results, the Richmond Promise hopes to expand in-class support at other District schools. Richmond Promise officials continue to outreach with eligible seniors at other schools such as Richmond High and El Cerrito High, providing one-on-one and workshop and office hours support.

For Mr. Pollock, the financial application requirement has been a welcome adjustment in this curriculum.

RELATED: Fulfilling the Promise

“When Miguel approached me about this I had no hesitation about giving up class time,” he said. “We have so few opportunities to help these kids get into college. There’s money out there for them, and a lot of the kids just don’t understand that.”

Pollock said he appreciates the “helpers” that the Richmond Promise brings into the lab, which include former students who received financial aid. Even if students aren’t planning to go to college, it’s good that they at the minimum fill out their financial aid forms, Pollock said.

“You may not be thinking about college right now, do it anyway as a backup plan and you may change your mind,” he said.

Not just the teachers — a lot of parents have responded positively to the innovative program, Molina said.

And the support doesn’t end after students complete their FASFA or Dream Act application, or even after they turn in their Richmond Promise application, which is due March 8 at 4 p.m.

In March and April, the Richmond Promise will return to campus to educate and assist students with transition steps to receive their scholarship – including enrolling in college full time this fall.  This includes connecting students with the summer transition and on-campus support programs that have been set up in partnership with Contra Costa College and other college campuses.

“Our goal is to do the best we can this year, show the results, and hope the data backs it up so we can extend it to other district schools,” Molina said.

To learn more about Richmond Promise and its programs, visit its website here and follow its updates on its Facebook page here.

For questions and assistance completing FAFSA or Dream Act Applications by the March 2 Cal Grant Deadline, contact Miguel Molina: mmolina@richmondpromise.org

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