This post was originally published on the Chicago Public Schools Blog on October 20, 2021.
One of the key goals of the Chicago Roadmap is to dramatically and equitably increase student outcomes in college readiness, college enrollment, college persistence, college degree attainment, and employment by expanding access to high-quality programs, advising, and supports.
The Roadmap is split into five domains, and progress on each domain is tracked through an annual report, the first of which was released this month. One domain is student advising and supports, which focuses on improving the rate at which students enroll, stay enrolled, graduate, and transfer to four-year colleges or gain full-time employment, especially for diverse learners and young men of color.
Jenny Zuluaga is one of the district’s college and career specialists, supporting a portfolio of schools on Chicago’s North and Northwest Sides. She’s been supporting students with college preparation and planning for decades, and all of her success stories—from helping a student secure the last $1,000 needed to study toward her dream of becoming a nurse to assisting a summer graduate with enrolling at a four-year college by working around his summer job at Taco Bell—connect back to building relationships.
“I’ve learned to never underestimate the power of our young people. They never cease to amaze me with their creativity, resilience, and how they approach challenges,” she said. “I really believe in one-on-one advising because every student has a unique journey, and you need to be able to meet them where they are at in order to walk alongside them.”
“Relentless” is how she describes the work of CPS and City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) staff this past summer. She played a small role in the nearly 60,000 outreach attempts that these staff members had with students. Suzanne Kilgannon, also a CPS college and career specialist, explains that engaging students under the limitations of the COVID-19 pandemic was difficult and something that did not impact all students equally.
“When you look at planning for college from an equity and access perspective, you have to remember that some students were struggling to stay engaged because they often had to go to work to support their families financially,” she said. “So, we brainstormed and strategized and tried to be as creative as possible to make virtual events appealing, provide incentives, and include the entire family in as many discussions as possible.”
The Roadmap’s first progress report shows that these efforts to go the extra mile for students are paying off. Another key support is postsecondary navigators, CCC positions that directly work with CPS high school students to help them identify and implement strong postsecondary plans. The report highlights that navigators were able to matriculate 44 percent of the CPS applicants they worked with into college, compared to an enrollment rate of 27 percent for CPS applicants that did not receive navigator support.
Gabriela Guzman supports four high schools on Chicago’s Northwest Side in her role as a postsecondary navigator. She believes one of the core strengths of working directly with CPS students is forging a stronger relationship between CPS and CCC in general.
“I think this improved relationship between CPS and CCC was long overdue. It should have been second nature that some of our students are led in that direction because community college can be an awesome option for them,” she said. “We’ve built this bridge that can guide all students toward postsecondary success and can often make their goals a reality, especially financially.”
Now that students are back in the classroom five days a week, her job looks a little different than it did when students were learning at home. And while that will likely increase engagement, she’s not taking that for granted. She’s committed to providing as much support, enthusiasm, and wisdom as possible to ensure that all of her students feel prepared for their next steps.
“I want the students to get excited because it’s going to be an amazing school year,” she said. “We have a lot of fun things planned, and I encourage them all to start thinking about life after graduation, because I’m here to assist them on that journey—whatever it may be.”