TASP Youth College Tour Photo
TASP Youth Experience Empowering Life Lessons

Annual College Tour participants learn more than just how to get in to college

Each spring the teenage participants at our Tenderloin After School Program (TASP) begin a ten-week college workshop series that includes guest speakers and assignments that teach the realities of applying for and getting in to college. For the participants who attend all the workshops, have the minimum GPA, and complete all of the assignments, the reward is the opportunity to go on the Annual College Tour. The tour is a week-long trip, often cross country, that includes tours of college campuses, cultural activities, leadership experiences, and service learning projects.

The purpose of the ten-week series and the Tour is to increase access to post-secondary education by promoting college as a real and accessible option for low-income youth. “Part of what goes on in this process is not just exposing youth to college campuses but building a foundation of skills that will help them make an informed choice, and ensure a more successful future whether they choose college or not,” says Laura Choe, TASP Program Manager.

The curriculum is designed to help strengthen social competencies like planning and decision making, as well as interpersonal communications and cultural competence. Through workshops on researching colleges, applying for financial aid, and SAT preparation, TASP staff guide the participants through a thoughtful exploration of their own future.

Students practice researching what is available to them, weighing their options, and making choices about what they feel is best for them. Assignments such as planning an activity for the trip with a set budget and writing personal statements help students practice planning ahead and prioritizing. By working in groups and presenting together, students build sensitivity and friendship skills and also gain knowledge of and comfort with people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

This year fifteen TASP participants completed the college workshop series and traveled to New Orleans to visit Xavier University, the University of New Orleans, Dillard University, and Tulane University. This selection of colleges allowed TASP youth to experience large, small, public and private campuses. On each campus, participants met with admissions staff, toured the college grounds, received information on majors, visited dorm rooms, and ate lunch in the student cafeterias. In the afternoons and evenings they got to experience the rich culture and history of New Orleans. Students visited the French Quarter and the Garden District as well as the Presbytere Louisiana State Museum. They sampled Creole food and were exposed to a wide variety of music played by local street musicians. These activities help TASP youth explore new and diverse cultures beyond their neighborhood, and to gain confidence and a sense of personal identity away from family and friends.

The program also places a high value on helping others and teaching equity and social justice. While in New Orleans, participants spent a day volunteering at the New Orleans Museum of Art gardening, pulling weeds and tending to the outdoor art installations. The Tour also helps the students develop their personal power, and their sense of control over what happens to them in their daily lives. Whether they decide to go on to college or not, college tour participants feel more optimistic about their personal future.

“On the Tour you get to learn and try to be more independent and more responsible. For example, we have to wake up and be ready by a certain time; we have to stay with the group and not get lost. During the campus tours, you have to ask questions about what you want to know and not expect others to ask those questions for you. So, I have to take responsibility to get the information that I am going to need,” says Erika, a senior in high school.

For many of the students, the tour is their first time away from home and the first time on a plane. Traveling can be an eye-opening experience. Erika says, “I learned that I am very interested in going outside of my usual comfort area. With traveling, I learned about other places, and I had to think about what they had to offer.”

On the tour, TASP staff spends quality time with participants and provides positive adult influence. The one-on-one time also helps to build trust. Trust that Laura Choe says is vital to engaging youth, especially over the long-term. “Later on, when I am working with a student on something difficult or outside of their comfort zone, the trust and knowledge built during the College Tour contribute to more successful outcomes. I can say, ‘Remember when you said you wanted this?’ and they hear me. ”

What is equally significant as the activities on the trip is the impact the tour participants have on younger participants when they return home and share their stories. College Tour participants are expected to give a presentation to the rest of the TASP participants to explain what they learned and how the trip impacted them. Teens who return from the College Tours are seen as role models for younger TASP youth and become a positive influence. They are motivated to improve their grades to be able to go on the tour, and many when they get back, are more motivated to stay engaged in school so that they can too go on to college.

Now in its eleventh year, the college preparedness curriculum and the Annual College Tour are building an environment at TASP where participants can see college as a real and accessible choice. The program is also opening doors to new experiences and opportunities.

Erika says, “I would recommend the College Tour, and I would tell people that it’s a great chance to go somewhere where you wouldn’t usually go. I got to learn about the history. I learned about Katrina and also all about Mardi Gras and how it started a long time ago and all the preparations that go into this huge event.”

Currently 10 TASP youth who previously participated in the College Tour are enrolled in a community or four-year college including Jessica, who will be entering Mt. Holyoke University in Massachusetts this fall. Five former TASP participants have graduated with a college degree or a professional program. The majority of these young adults are the first in their family to go to college.

Slowly over the years, we can see the Annual College Tour opening windows of possibility for TASP youth and their parents/guardians as they begin to dream about a future that includes a college education.

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