Diversity & Inclusion
COVID-19 / Delaware / Education / Youth

During a disrupted year, here’s how TeenSHARP is reaching more college-interested students

Thanks to a "powerful" CARES Act grant from the county, The New Castle County Goes to College initiative helps high school students virtually, via texts, TV and other digital resources.

High school senior Zarah Zurita is interviewed by Atnre Alleyne on "College Knowledge." (Screenshot)

When COVID-19 hit last spring, forcing schools to close for the rest of the year, high school seniors got a lot of attention for a senior year full of canceled milestones. No prom, no senior trips and no graduation ceremony as we knew them.

And then there was the question of whether college-bound students would be able to safely start their freshman year on campus.

The class of 2020 faced a lot of challenges due to the pandemic, but one thing about the timing that was fortunate was that for students who did plan to attend college, the campus visits and application process — which normally happens between the spring of 11th grade through the fall of 12th grade — was finished.

The class of 2021 has had that entire period disrupted.

So, when New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer put out a call for education pitches for CARES Act grants, TeenSHARP and DelawareCAN founder Atnre Alleyne and his team came up with a proposal for a program that targets high school students who are interested in college, but have less access to college application resources due to the pandemic.

The initiative, New Castle County Goes to College, was awarded $245,000.

“For an organization of our size, that was a powerful investment,” said Alleyne.

The goal? To reach 1,000 New Castle County students from early fall, when it began, through the end of December, the deadline for the funds. And not just teens who know they’re college bound — teens lacking support, knowledge or inspiration, who think college is not an option.

Compared to TeenSHARP, which prepares small cohorts of marginalized students for acceptance at elite colleges, New Castle County Goes to College’s focus is broader and extremely accessible.

For example, some of the funds are being used to produce the one-hour “College Knowledge” TV show on DETV, airing on Channel 28 on Tuesdays at 7:30 and streaming on DETV’s Youtube channel.

This week’s episode discusses college affordability:

Students can also text TeenSHARP at 302-581-8114 to receive updates and “nudges” to make sure they’re staying on track in their college application process, a service available in both English and in Spanish through a partnership with Ventas Latinas Delaware.

The program has also been able to contract 1440 Films to produce some soon-to-be-released videos, in a full circle of sorts: TeenSharp was selected by 1440 Films as its annual Project Giveback pro bono project, a film featured at this year’s TeenSHARP Signing Day.

“[The grant] was cool, because we would never be able to afford 1440,” said Alleyne.

TeenSHARP was also able to help out some of the families in the program by hiring parents and students to do outreach.

An all-virtual program that aims to uplift marginalized students has its challenges, Alleyne says, but he sees his students pivot and adapt as needed.

“There is a digital divide, but there’s also what I call digital resilience,” he said. “One of our students, Daniela, lives in a trailer, in close quarters. She’s been accepted into prestigious programs that were now virtual. We’ll do whatever it takes to support you, but we recognize that the world is unkind and requires resilience.”

While the initial county-funded College Knowledge initiative ends at the end of the month, Alleyne hopes to continue on with it, by obtaining sponsors for the DETV show and other projects. If you’re interested in sponsoring, donating or volunteering as a tutor or mentor, go to TeenSHARP’s Make a Difference page. Students interested in accessing College Knowledge resources should fill out the sign-up form.

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