Futures Featured in The Notebook Article

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Read the full article titled “At Sayre High, pandemic puts the brakes on college aspirations” and written by Bill Hangley Jr. by clicking here.

The segment of the article featuring Philadelphia Futures can be found below.

At the nonprofit Philadelphia Futures, director of college access Oneda Horne specializes in helping vulnerable Philadelphia students get into college and stay there.

Horne says the coronavirus shutdown is vividly exposing longstanding inequities, including those around college access.

“It’s absolutely throwing old issues into the limelight,” said Horne. Futures serves more than 650 students in its direct service programs and thousands more through outreach and engagement, many of whom are trying hard to keep their college plans on track. “We’re finding that our students really want to fill their time with meaningful activity,” she said. “They’re engaging with our staff at a much higher rate.”

Horne says the coronavirus has laid bare the advantages that wealthier districts offer their students in the highly competitive world of college admissions. After schools were closed statewide a month ago, districts with robust online learning programs were able to quickly return to “business as usual,” keeping students abreast of all the requirements for college preparation: instruction, grades, counseling, and planning.

Meanwhile  poorer districts like Philadelphia’s have been forced to essentially stop teaching for weeks. College preparation has been left to students, families and whatever school staff they can connect with for informal support. All this could leave Philadelphia students at a “significant disadvantage” when it’s time to apply to college, Horne said, especially next year, when current juniors will have little or nothing to show from the current semester.

Even if students aren’t learning much, “colleges still have their requirements,” Horne said. “It’s been heaviest on our 9th to 11th graders, because their learning process has been so badly disrupted before they could produce evidence of their learning,” she said.

Horne said that current seniors face disruptions of their own. Many have already applied and been accepted at various schools, and much of the basic admissions machinery is still operating as usual. “Admission letters and financial aid letters are still on schedule,” said Horne.

But unlike in years past, once seniors are accepted, they’ll be unable to follow up by seeing campuses and meeting professors in person. “They’re making their decisions but they can’t make their campus visits.”

Horne said that she won’t be surprised to see more colleges relax their admissions policies to accommodate the millions of students nationwide whose 2020 school year has been a near washout. Many mid-level schools have already gone “SAT optional” to level the playing field, she said, and in response to the pandemic, some highly selective colleges like Swarthmore and Haverford have joined them – at least temporarily. 

But for now, with so much changing so fast, Horne said she’s advising current juniors to keep prepping for the SATs, even if it’s not clear when they’ll be offered again or whether they’ll even be necessary.

“We’re still messaging to juniors, plan on taking it,” Horne said.


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