A Letter from the Executive Director
Happy Thanksgiving! As we approach the holidays, I have been reflecting on this thought: 2020 was not the year in which we got everything we wanted. But it is a year to appreciate everything we have.
I am so appreciative of all of you, and of the entire CYD family – our students, staff, Board members, funders, and partners. And I am very proud of all we’ve accomplished during this time, and of what we continue to do.
We reach the end of 2020 after 10 months of addressing the issues that COVID has created for our schools and the young people we serve. The news of the advances in vaccines is encouraging, but re-closing of schools last week is a reminder that this work will continue for a number of months to come.
Transforming our work from in-person to remote.
Our staff has been incredible – using remote platforms to design innovative college and career readiness services. They’ve worked tirelessly during the pandemic to assist students and families. They’ve created engaging online workshops and reached out individually to students and families every day – at times up to 10 pm at night – to assist students with completing high school and developing a plan for postsecondary success. It has been a time of great challenge, creativity, loss, grief, opportunity – and yes, success. 84% of our graduating students had clear plans for life after high school, from enrolling in college to taking part in training programs and strategies for employment. Our schools held remote graduations and did their best to celebrate the success and resilience of our students during this unprecedented time.
Providing emergency resources for students and families.
We launched a COVID resource website and updated it daily as resources and information came in.
Keeping CYD operations alive and well.
Our development team reached out for emergency funding, and we secured grants to stabilize us during this time. A priority has been to retain all of our staff so that we are able to continue to serve all of our young people. We have worked hard with our government partners to develop systems that are secure for data and information collection.
We’re addressing a number of new challenges in this school year.
We are advocating with other nonprofits across the city to support after-school funding through the City’s Learning to Work Programs that provide money for internships, career readiness, and support services to thousands of our most vulnerable high school students. We are collaborating with our school partners to increase attendance by reaching out to students daily. We are seeking ways to provide technology support to families that cannot afford the cost of data plans, hotspots, and WiFi service that are essential for learning in the new remote model. We are hearing from graduates who are overwhelmed because their plans are falling apart. Older youth and their families are still suffering with layoffs and furloughs, and they are in need of social support services as well as employment. CYD is evolving to meet these challenges and will be seeking additional support to expand our work and deepen it over the next months.
At CYD we have always known that educational and racial equity are tied together. The Black Lives Matter movement represents a challenge and an opportunity. Our staff supported many of our young people and their families who were marching for justice this summer, and we created forums for them to process what they were going through and to express themselves. In response, we are developing civic engagement models to help students develop the skills to work positively to address the issues of racial equity directly, and also to learn how to be part of the democracy they live in, as a new generation of voters, advocates, and leaders.
We have a large number of challenges in front of us. But I feel that together we can rise up and turn those challenges into opportunities for the young people we serve. We could not do it without you. I appreciate you for your support throughout this pandemic year and beyond. Thank you!
Executive Director, Comprehensive Youth Development
College Counseling during the Pandemic
A day in the life of Gina Morrello
I came to CYD after I got my master’s degree in school counseling at Columbia. I did an intern year at a high school focusing on the college process. I loved it. From there, I found the position at CYD where I’ve been for three years. I’m a college counselor at the High School for Health Professions and Human Services (HPHS).
CYD college and career counselors help students and their families navigate the best choices for life after high school. I focus on college. HPHS is a big school – we have more than 1,700 students this year. I help students research and identify the schools that make sense for them, identifying sources of financial aid and scholarships, and helping them put their applications together. Many students at HPHS are the first in their families to go to college, so they really rely on us for this support and information.
Work during the pandemic is the same… and totally different. The CYD college office is located in the school’s library, but since the shutdown in March we have been fully remote. One main thing is that everything takes a lot longer. I used to meet with students in person. They would get their college lists approved at my desk, it would take 5 minutes; now we are doing this in Google Classroom and there’s a lot of back and forth. I had 100 student emails just today. I miss seeing the kids in person.
A typical November day: There are 460 seniors this year, and we work with juniors, too. I have a caseload of 200 students. There are four of us on the CYD team here and we work very closely together. Right now we are in the thick of college application season. HPHS has a large college-going culture – 90% go on to college, and about two-thirds typically go to CUNY, so we are making sure students have a strong CUNY list. I spend these days reviewing the lists and the college paperwork, financial aid eligibility, and guiding students through that process either on Zoom or Google Classroom. Students who aren’t quite college ready or who have other interests explore other opportunities with my colleague Ashley Falzone, our Employment Coordinator.
Creating resources that are accessible anytime. We used to share all our information in person, but now we have to disseminate things to students who have complicated schedules. To do that, our team has created new resources: online step-by-step guides and ‘how to’ videos that we post on our YouTube channel. Now when a student emails asking how to do their college research or how to read their transcript, for example, I can just link a video. I did one on how to understand financial aid for parents – those FAFSA forms are incredibly complicated. Some of our videos already have 200 views – kids are really using them as a resource.
Giving students a safe, quiet place. What the kids really miss about school is the community. They miss their friends, their teachers, and their counselors. To help with this I’ve created spaces for them where they can just talk, and it innately helps their mental health. One of the most popular things we’ve instituted this year is Office Hours, times when students can log into Zoom and spend time with their classmates as they each work on the topic of the week. Two weeks ago it was the common application for colleges, and we had 150 students join. Last week it was their CUNY lists and applications. I play quiet music and they can ask me questions.
Helping students cope with emotions. With the pandemic there’s been a huge amount of fear and anxiety, and a lot of students are feeling overwhelmed. Some have lost family members. I am trained as a school counselor, so I can offer moral support; and if it is just stress about college stuff then I can usually talk them down. If it’s more serious I’ll connect the student to the school’s social worker and stay in touch to make sure any problems get resolved.
The highlight of my week is when we’re finishing up Office Hours and the Zoom chat explodes: This was so amazing! So helpful! Thank you so much! I was so stressed and now I am not stressed! Some of my students have asked permission to invite friends from other high schools that don’t have strong college counseling departments to sit in on my office hours and look at some of our online materials. This makes me happy! One of the silver linings of this time is to be able to reach young people across the city.
What I love most about my job is being able to build the personal relationships with the kids. We talk college, of course. But what I really miss is hanging out with them and talking with them about life.