What happens when you train 60 students as peer influencers and unleash their creativity to build college going cultures in their school?  Over 2,400 lives are changed!

Those are the early results from the first cohort of BRACE Cadets, a peer-to-peer college and career mentoring program within the Broward County Public Schools. On May 28, Ralph Aiello, Director School Counseling & BRACE, School District of Broward County, Yvonne Green, MSW, College, Career & Life Readiness Specialist, Broward Schools, and Carol Lopez, Supervisor, College and Career Readiness, Broward Schools, joined FCAN’s Kathy McDonald, Assistant Director for Network Partnerships, for a webinar to share strategies, successes, and lessons learned from leveraging students as peer influencers.

Get to Know: Broward BRACE Cadets

BRACE Cadets are high school students trained to help their peers take action in preparing for college, career, and life after high school.

Broward County Public Schools, which serves more than 267,000 students and is the nation’s sixth-largest school district, launched the program in the spring of 2019 to harness the power of peer influence and reach.

“We found that the most influential person on a student’s life and career choice is their parent, but the second most powerful influence is their peers,” Aiello said. “We could leverage this peer influence for the betterment of students.”

BRACE Cadets create programs to implement in their schools around five key priority areas:

  • Naviance
  • College readiness
  • Career readiness
  • Financial aid – FAFSA, Bright Futures, Scholarships
  • Alternatives to 4-year colleges

Becoming a BRACE Cadet

Over 300 students applied to participate in the first program cohort of 60 peer mentors.

Applicants had to take many of the steps they would help their peers navigate — fill out an application, prepare to be interviewed, complete the Common Application, and take self-assessments to understand their strengths. Those selected had to sign an agreement to attend four days of mandatory training, submit two project plans focused on the district priority areas, and implement their approved project. Upon completion, students each received a $500 stipend.

Student projects included college admissions match and selection, scholarship preparation, technical college awareness, and FAFSA support. According to the presenters, the keys to the program’s success included giving students a choice in how they help build a college-going culture in their school and developing them as leaders and influencers, not just students implementing projects.

“We don’t tell students what to do,” Green said. “We tell them what the priorities are, and let them design the project.”

Impact of BRACE Cadets

The first cohort of BRACE Cadets helped their peers take action in a variety of areas, including (number of students served in parenthesis):

  • Complete a FAFSA (213)
  • Create an FSA ID (50)
  • Fill out Bright Futures applications (71)
  • Apply for scholarships (345)
  • Apply to college (72)
  • Take self-assessments (376)
  • Conduct career searches (139)
  • Explore military and career technical options (41)
  • Create a postsecondary plan (95)

Even more important was the personal transformation of the cadets who began to see themselves as leaders, influencers and game-changers.

“We were with them from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for their training, and the funny thing is they wanted more training,” Lopez said of the first group of BRACE Cadets.

Supported by federal Title IV grants and a To and Through Advising Challenge grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Broward is now in its fourth cohort of BRACE Cadets who continue to make an impact in their schools. These funds helped cover the cost of student and trainer stipends, provided uniforms that helped solidify the brand in the community, and provided incentives that motivated students to take action.

Show Notes

To learn more about BRACE Cadets and the power of student peer influencers — or to view the webinar and download the presentation — take advantage of these resources:

BRACE Cadets Application

You can also check out this video to meet some of this year’s BRACE Cadets and follow them on Twitter @bracecadets.

Be sure to visit our Past Webinars page for access to recordings and downloadable material from FCAN’s previous presentations.

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