Broward County Public Schools — the sixth-largest school district in the nation, and the second-largest in Florida — was a recipient of the To and Through Advising Challenge grant administered by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“What they want us to do is go a little bit beyond our normal parameters of success, such as how many college applications are submitted or how many FAFSAs are completed,” said Rebecca Reichert-Cuffe, senior manager for grant programs at Broward County Public Schools. “They want us to look at what is creating the barriers for students to get into and complete college.”
A “to and through” approach to advising focuses on three critical decision points that impact a student’s chances of earning a postsecondary degree or credential: advising students to apply to and enroll at institutions that support student success, supporting students to successfully navigate financial aid and affordability issues, and avoiding summer melt.
Reichert-Cuffe said Broward County’s local college access network — Broward Bridge to Life — played a critical role in the school district earning the To and Through grant.
“We had a lot of positive points, including the fact that we started our own local college access network,” said Reichert-Cuffe, who was involved in the drafting of the grant for Broward. “That was an attractive feature because it means we already know a lot of the stakeholders in our area.”
Ralph Aiello, director of school counseling and BRACE advisement at Broward County Public Schools, said the first part of adopting a To and Through approach to advising involves analyzing data.
“We’re looking at student demographic data, academic data, process data, and other factors,” Aiello said. “We want to be able to take that information and put together some early warning indicators to identify students who are at risk of not navigating the (college application) process successfully.”
Once the data is collected and the at-risk students have been identified, Broward County Public Schools is partnering with PeerFoward, a national nonprofit that utilizes the power of positive peer influence to drive more low-income students to and through college. The organization trains students to motivate their peers to complete postsecondary goals. Additionally, their advisor tracking tools monitor college application completions and target advisory energy to meet goals, extending the capacity of guidance counselors.
Reichert-Cuffe said the grant supports PeerForward programming in three high-need high schools: Coconut Creek, Blanche Ely and Stranahan.