Local nonprofits are giving underserved St. Louis students a leg up on the college competition.

“Students in low-income families and at underperforming schools are not getting the preparation they need for college, so we are devoting resources to it,” says College Bound executive director Lisa Zarin.

College Bound, as well as Wyman Center and Springboard, are three nonprofits helping set kids up for academic success.

To prepare students for higher education, College Bound offers tutoring, connections to internships and programs such as early college awareness, which ensures kids are taking and succeeding in university-level prep courses. “When we started College Bound, we found students hadn’t taken the proper courses, so they weren’t prepared for college and able to tackle the rigor. Even courses like advanced calculus were watered down, so they couldn’t pass math tests for college,” Zarin says. So the nonprofit began offering tutoring with Washington University students at its facility and on the college’s campus. Beyond higher learning, College Bound provides connections to internships and job shadowing at local companies for real-world career experience, and offers a month-long math, science and critical-thinking program at Saint Louis University. These types of skills are critical for the workforce, Zarin notes.

College Bound’s programs, which annually help 1,500 students at 39 schools, have led to significant results. The organization’s students have graduated from college at a rate of 75 percent, which is equivalent to students from the highest income households and more than the national average of 56 percent. Typically, about 9 percent of low-income students graduate from a university. In addition, several students have gone on to full-time careers with the companies they were connected with through College Bound internships and job shadowing.

Wyman Center has produced similar success, with 96 percent entering college or career school directly following high school and graduating from college at a rate of 73 percent. At the center, two core programs—the teen leadership program and the teen outreach program—aid students in high school and college. Students participate in a month-long leadership program and receive academic support throughout the school year, including college prep that focuses on leadership, motivation and communication. Participants also are exposed to a wide array of horizon-broadening experiences in order to find a possible future career. “We help them discover constructive and positive things that suit them,” says president Dave Hilliard.

A portion of the teen outreach program also requires students to create and complete a 10-hour service learning project each semester. “Service to others is critically important,” Hilliard notes. “It builds a sense of community and responsibility to give back to the community that supports us.” In addition, Wyman provides families with college support, from touring campuses nationwide to submitting applications and leveraging scholarships. Through partnerships with schools, including Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield and Indiana University in Bloomington, the organization connects students to more affordable higher education. “They graduate from college with very little debt,” Hilliard notes.

Springboard is another local organization ensuring underserved kids are ready for today’s higher education and career demands. The organization’s ‘teaching artists’—from highly trained storytellers and dancers to visual artists—go into local grade school classrooms to lead children in using arts, culture, science and technology to make connections to their academic curriculum. For example, Springboard’s drama workshops aim to improve reading comprehension and conflict resolution, and its dance performances incorporate connections to math through movements, says executive director Sheroo Mukhtiar. “What’s unique about Springboard programs is that we encourage students to be part of the learning—it’s not just a lecture.”

The programs, which are aligned with Missouri grade level and national academic standards, are designed to develop and support creative and critical thinking in children and teachers.” The organization works with 40,000 students in 150 schools at educational institutions and community venues, with a goal to extend to summer camps and after-school programs. “We work with teachers in schools based on their needs,” Mukhtiar says. While the organization does not provide individual sessions for students, parents can request its teaching artists come to their children’s schools. “Students living in underserved communities, where schools historically have not been able to provide access to cutting-edge skills, need the resources like the ones offered by Springboard more than ever.”

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