News: College Access & Success

Partnership for LA Schools Kicks Off Summer Melt Initiative; You Can, Too

Monday, June 8, 2020  
Posted by: Bill DeBaun, Director of Data and Evaluation
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The Partnership for Los Angeles Schools is kicking off a new summer melt intervention with students attending four postsecondary institutions to help ensure they arrive on campus this fall.

Summer melt keeps college-intending high school graduates from matriculating, and the unfortunate phenomenon is more likely to affect students from low-income backgrounds, students of color, and first-generation students.

The Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, an NCAN member and participant in the To & Through Advising Challenge, already earned well-deserved plaudits on this blog for its work around incorporating postsecondary fit and match into advising for students. Their work around summer melt was already in the works before COVID-19, so having laid the groundwork will hopefully pay off for students this summer.

“The Partnership is a third way in education,” said Rachel Bonkovsky, senior director of school transformation on a recent webinar for AASA, the School Superintendents Association. The Partnership is neither a charter management organization nor a school district, but is instead somewhere in between. The Partnership works with district schools, which have unionized staff, and has a memorandum of understanding with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to take on management of certain aspects of the schools (e.g., management of principals in lieu of a district person who would otherwise do that). All of the schools they work within are Title I and enroll all or nearly all students of color.

A commitment to building a college-going culture through the K-12 pipeline extends to the Partnership’s summer melt approach, Karlo Silbiger, coordinator of college-going culture, noted on the aforementioned AASA webinar. “We’ve never done anything at the Partnership around summer melt, but we’ve decided to put together a pilot this year,” explained Silbiger, who added, “This happened before the COVID situation, and it’s even more necessary now.”

The approach this summer will revolve around building a community of support. Students often come back and say that when they got to campus, they knew few or no people there, and, unfortunately, they did not yet have the socioemotional skills to build that community. These factors contributed to their falling through the cracks, hurting their continued enrollment. To build that community of support, the Partnership is putting students going to the same campus in touch with each other. The concept is not a new one, the Posse Foundation has been using it to great effect for years.

Each group of students will be introduced to support programs on their campuses. “We want to make sure they know who they can reach out to on campus starting in the fall and even in the summer so that persistence continues even when this intervention ends,” explained Silbiger.

Because of capacity constraints, this intervention can’t be extended to every student, so instead the Partnership is focused on two California State University campuses and two local community colleges with the highest matriculation rates (based on National Student Clearinghouse data). This will focus attention on the students who the data say need the most support. Two college success advisers, hired through the AmeriCorps VISTA program and one year out of college themselves, will build this summer melt program.

The college success advisers will meet with students twice a month via webinar. These webinars will touch on the things that students are excited and worried about, and advisers will teach lessons about time management and how to ask for help. A key message on these calls will be that students are in this together and can support each other. Representatives from each cohort’s campus will come in and introduce themselves and their services. For example, admissions/orientation ambassadors can come and give a virtual campus tour so that students know where everything is, and someone from the academic tutoring center will come and explain how to access that support. Ultimately, the Partnership wants students to connect to people on campus who can help them once they matriculate.

Advisers will also connect individually with students once a month and send weekly, campus-specific text message reminders.

Campuses will support this effort by providing a list of key dates and information and in general staying in contact with the Partnership’s advisers. When the Partnership reached out to their institutional partners, they sold them on the idea by noting both the support needed for first-generation students making the transition between high school graduation and college and the opportunity to understand the specific challenges imposed by the current pandemic and provide the support to ensure that enrollment levels stay stable.

“I have been amazed at how much [the postsecondary institutions] wanted to collaborate. I think they are struggling mightily with reaching out to matriculating students in the COVID age. They need our help! So, it looks like so long as we find the students, they will want [the] support,” Silbiger noted via email.

The Partnership will measure the success of this intervention by looking at student participation and engagement rates, using a survey to measure students’ excitement and concerns about college-going, and, after the fall semester, calculating the summer melt rate for the class of 2020.

The Partnership’s timeline for this effort looks something like this:

  • Early April: College success advisers work with the leadership team to create a three-month check-in schedule, including questions to help guide conversations with students.
  • Early May: Ideally, college success advisers would have gone to the Partnership’s five high schools to meet with all college-bound seniors to introduce the purpose of the program, the commitment that it would take from the students and then inquire about their interest. In light of COVID-19, advisers reached out virtually to students through their counselors, teachers, and college access partners.
    • Based on those conversations, advisers would determine the number of interested students and their college destination and create groupings of students ideally representing all five high schools and all going to the same college OR colleges in the same community.
  • May-July, twice per month: Starting mid-May, students matriculating to the same college will be invited to meet in person or virtually in order to create community and support networks and learn about campus-specific resources
  • May-July, once per month: Students receive 1-on-1 support check-ins on progress towards matriculation.
  • May-July, once per week: Weekly text message reminders with campus-specific tasks that need completing
  • July: Hire four new AmeriCorps VISTA advisors who will take over planning and execution.

Cecilia Villa, one of the Partnership’s college success advisers, recently illuminated some early difficulties for the initiative, largely around outreach. “The pandemic has posed challenges for students. There are limited communications via phone, email, and text, but despite these challenges we collaborate as a team to think of creative ways to surmount the hurdles we’re currently facing.”

Silbiger emphasizes: “We anticipate a significant amount of undermatching because few students feel comfortable committing to a school that is far away. But my hope is that this is a temporary issue that we will get over and that we’ll emerge stronger with new technological strategies to help us better support students.”

NCAN looks forward to following along with the Partnership’s summer melt initiative and commends the team there for getting it off the ground. On a personal note, I’m particularly grateful for the Partnership team’s continued, well, partnership and willingness to be forthright and share their knowledge with the field.

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