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IvyWise Gives Back: Counselor Ashley Expands College Counseling Access With LISTO

Latino Student Fund

Positively impacting communities, both local and global, is important to IvyWise. Through IvyWise Gives Back we aim to improve educational opportunities for children across the world. Our counselors are also heavily involved in various non-profit, service, and community organizations and projects, and we want to highlight the great work our counselors do outside of admissions consulting!

Access to educational consulting is important, and for many students it’s a luxury they just don’t have. That is why IvyWise counselor Ashley co-founded LISTO, a free, after-school college prep program of the Latino Student Fund aimed at increasing college readiness among low-income, first generation high school students in the greater Washington, D.C. area. Since 2010, LISTO has gone from a six-week program to a year-round after school program that operates four days per week.

In addition to academic support, LISTO increases college readiness by offering team building exercises, college visits, college application and financial aid guidance, and more. Aside from helping students graduate and attend college, LISTO also helps students identify potential career paths by helping them network with professionals from a variety of career options.

Increasing college access is critical to helping children build better lives, and Ashley is here to answer some questions about LISTO, the program’s goals, and what they have planned for the future.

Q: How was the idea for LISTO born?
A: After I graduated from college, I worked in admissions for my alma mater, Davidson College. I was involved with recruiting students who would be the first in their families to go to college. I traveled across the country to under-resourced high schools and met many students like the ones we work with at LISTO – smart, determined, resilient, and with so much potential to change their communities, but also facing countless barriers to college. I remember reading many of their applications and my heart would sink – they might be at the top of their class, but were still unprepared for college-level work. I remember thinking that if someone had helped them to better prepare for college and to demonstrate their potential in their applications, they would have been admitted to our college.

So when I left Davidson, I had a dream of one day starting a program that would help first-generation college bound students. That’s why I was so excited and grateful when Maria Fernanda, the Executive Director of the Latino Student Fund, allowed me to start an informal college essay workshop that took place over the course of several Saturdays in the fall of 2009. The following spring I received a delightful email from a senior named Maritza. She wrote that she was admitted to all but one of the schools to which she applied and received a full ride to Georgetown. And she also wrote about how much she attributed her success to the help she received in those workshops.

Maritza’s email stuck with me. Of course, she and many others are deserving of credit for her success—her parents, teachers, school counselors, and friends. But I thought to myself that if a program so small could potentially make such a big difference, even for one student, what would happen if we offered more workshops, where we could connect college recruiters and experts with more students like Maritza? And so little by little, we expanded the program and added talented staff members, and I think we’re truly moving the needle on college access in Washington, DC.

Q: What are LISTO’s goals?
A: The main goal of the program is for all of our students to be enrolled in a good-fit post-secondary institution with the greatest amount of financial aid possible. I believe that when a student is the first in his or her family to attend college, it improves the prospects for the generations following. We are aiming to help a group of highly motivated students to believe in themselves, realize their potential, and change their communities.

Q: Tell us about the students LISTO works with.
A: Listo serves low-income, first-generation, predominately Hispanic youth in grades 9-12 at DC public high school Cardozo Education Campus (“Cardozo”) in Ward 1 of Washington, DC. Cardozo was selected based on demonstrated need; it is a Title 1 school and has one of the lowest graduation rates in the District at 52% and one of the highest enrollment rates of Hispanic students at 43%. The graduation rate for Hispanic students at Cardozo is 39% (DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education, 2015). 100% of the 2015-16 Listo participants at Cardozo qualify for free-or-reduced-price-lunch. The students often come from families that are faced with a wide range of challenges, including language barriers, insecure housing and employment, low wages, lack of access to quality health care and social services, and lack of knowledge about how to navigate the U.S. K-12 and higher education systems. In addition to our work with the students, we work closely with the parents to help address these issues.

Q: What do students do in a typical day at LISTO?
A: The Listo Cohort Program is a year-round, after-school program that follows a four-year cohort model designed to support students throughout the duration of high school from grades 9-12. Based on best practices from programs like the Posse Foundation and College Track, the Listo Cohort Program provides individualized units for each grade-level cohort. 9th grade students focus on establishing a strong GPA; 10th grade students develop public speaking and communication skills; 11th grade students research post-secondary institutions and scholarships, as well as participate in an eight-week ACT preparation course led by a professional instructor. The 12th grade students apply to post-secondary institutions and are partnered one-to-one with a mentor to provide guidance and support during the application process.

Q: How has LISTO impacted the local community?
A: Since 2010, the LISTO Program has served over 1,000 students in the Washington metropolitan region through its year-round program and summer workshops that are open to the community. In 2014-15, 100% of the 12th grade Listo Cohort students enrolled in a post-secondary institution in the fall of 2015, and the year-round program seniors received a combined $508,780 in post-secondary financial aid awards.

In addition to the Listo Cohort Program, the LSF also offers short-term and one-time community program offerings such as Listo Rápido, a one-week summer college prep course that serves approximately 50 students, and an annual Spanish-English bilingual college/scholarship fair open to the public. More than 150 participants from the community attend the fair each year.

Q: What’s next for LISTO?
A: We are entering the third year of our cohort program at Cardozo High School. Our goal is to continue improving our program and curriculum so that we can feel confident about expanding our program to other high schools in the District, and perhaps in other cities in the future.

Q: How has your experience with LISTO impacted other areas of your life?
A: I have great admiration for the LISTO students; they never cease to amaze me with their grit and determination to overcome the many obstacles facing them in their journey to college and ultimately productive, meaningful adult lives. Many of these teens have experienced hardships and tragedies that most of us could never imagine, and yet they keep trusting in the process, showing up, and persevering. It is hard to work with these students and not be inspired, and when I think about this I realize that I have gotten more from the students than I could ever give to them. To me, the beauty of the LISTO program is that transformative moments happen every day; moments that help students to believe in themselves and realize their potential; moments that make all the difference in whether or not a student takes the path toward college.

Q: How can others get involved?
A: We are developing an online portal that will allow mentors to give feedback on our students’ essays and application pieces from any part of the country. We will be looking for mentors to work remotely with our seniors during the application season.

 To learn more about LISTO, visit the Latino Student Fund’s website here!