NYC’s largest shelter leads college tours for homeless teens
New York’s notoriously complicated high school admissions process was especially daunting for 14-year-old Asiel — who had spent the previous three years living with his mother in a homeless shelter.
But the incoming ninth grader, who loves math and science, pushed his way through a nerve-racking interview and test, and scored a seat at the selective Bard Early College Queens.
Now, with the help of a new initiative through WIN Shelters, the largest provider of homeless facilities in the city, Asiel will have a head start on the next daunting admissions process: college.
As the population of homeless students in New York City rises, the shelter agency — armed with a $25,000 grant from telecommunications giant AT&T — has taken dozens of teenagers living in WIN facilities on college tours to help boost college enrollment for students without housing.
“It’s pretty great so far,” Asiel said on an August tour of Hunter College. “I like the fact they take you around the whole school,” he said, admiring facilities like the computer lab and student center.
Tour chaperone Diana Santos, assistant vice president of supportive services at WIN Shelters, said the trips are a chance for kids to get out of the close quarters they often share with shelter families, and a way to “plant a seed” about applying to college.
One in 10 city students live in a shelter or doubled up with friends or relatives, according to a sobering report from the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness. Losing a home has profound educational effects for students, including forcing families to choose between switching schools or traveling long distances to stay in a familiar school.
And in the midst of that shuffle and adjustment, a complicated and lengthy process like prepping for a college application can be pushed to the back burner, Santos said.
The tours, along with tutoring and social work services WIN provides in shelters, help keep college front and center for the teens.
Jennifer Raab, the president of Hunter College, said she was eager to host a tour after the college enrolled Brianna Watts, a teenager accepted to 12 colleges while living in a WIN shelter.
“We’re so aware of how hard it is for any New York City public school students to think about paying for college, about applying to college,” Raab said. “We’re that much more conscious of how hard it is if you don’t have a stable living situation.”
Another student on the tour, a 10th grader named Milaiska, liked Hunter’s nursing program. She’s aspired to be a nurse since, as a child, she helped care for her sick grandmother.
“I really like it. It had everything I need," she said, adding: “I like how you can stay here,” referring to the availability of dorms.
Most of all, students on the tour said the experience demystified the college application process. For example, Asiel said he was worried about the importance of SAT and ACT test scores for admission. He welcomed learning the actual targets he’d need to aim for, and that they weren’t the single most important aspect of admission.