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Published on November 20, 2017

Helping teens navigate beyond high schoolHelping teens navigate beyond high school

Rene King apologizes for “talking so much” about the Y Achievers program, but it is only a reflection of her  passion for the program that has guided several Cape Cod high school students into pursuit of a higher education.

Y Achievers is part of the YMCA of Cape Cod and started last year with 33 students. The 2017 program saw 55 students enrolled and, of these, 12 are going to college this year. The program is a partnership between the YMCA of Cape Cod and Barnstable High School, and students from Trinity Christian Academy of Cape Cod and Dennis Yarmouth High School. Cape Cod Healthcare is a major sponsor of the program.

Y Achievers

2017 Y Achievers Literacy Leadership Project – Kickoff Summer Reading Celebration

Y Achievers encourages and guides students, both in a philosophical and practical way, into pursuing education beyond the high school diploma.

“Our objective is that they have goals, direction, and a plan for after (high) school,” explained King, who is director of the program.

Eighty percent of the students’ parents never attended college. Some students had never even had the experience of staying in a hotel. Y Achievers wants them to feel connected, to have a purpose for after school.

“We try to connect their academics with their careers. When they go back to class, it (their experience) becomes more applicable,” King said.

A Family’s First

Caroline Nascimento, a Barnstable High School junior who lives in Hyannis, did not know how to begin the process of  college enrollment. That changed once she started to participate in the Y Achievers program.

“It helped me a lot. I visited schools, met people from the healthcare field and others.”

Being the first person in her Brazilian family to aspire to go to college is not holding Caroline back. She is fairly certain she wants to study biotechnology or biochemistry. And it was through visiting colleges with the Y Achievers that she now understands the process better, including the difference between rural and city colleges, and large and small universities.

In the beginning of the year the students visited various colleges in different parts of the country.

“We want them to see themselves as college students,” said King. “Students learn about the application process, institution sizes and career paths.”

The program started in the 1960s with YMCA leader and civil rights activist Quentin Mease, an African-American scholar from Iowa, who discovered that his fellow African Americans’ astonishment with his academic achievements was because they could not see themselves pursuing higher education.

Mease then created what was called the Black Achievers – which initially focused solely on healthcare – to encourage and guide black students on the path to higher education.

Keeping Track of Dreams

King stresses the importance of Cape Cod students having responsible adults in their lives, and the value of keeping them involved in academics and community services as preventive tools.

“We don’t want them to lose track of their dreams.”

The group of Y Achievers meets weekly at the Hyannis Youth & Community Center to hear professionals talk about their jobs, learn about different careers, and to plan community services in which they will engage.

The program has embraced students from the U.S., Greece, Austria, Italy, Mexico, Brazil, countries in the Caribbean and Africa, and others.

Emily Scipione is a junior at Barnstable High School who has been in the program for one year now. She taught herself Portuguese by talking to friends in school and by listening to Brazilian music. She also taught herself Spanish.

“I think my favorite thing is the community service opportunity,” she said

Emily reads books to kids at Hyannis West Elementary School as part of the program. She wants to be an interpreter and said she has a clearer vision now as to what it means to “go to college.”

Breaking The Poverty Cycle

The implementation of Y Achievers on the Cape was a direct response to the Barnstable High School need for a program that would help students have career goals beyond the high school and also be a preventive service, said Peugh.

“We want to break the poverty circle. And we received a lot of support; businesses that put dollars behind the program.”

Most of the students participating in the program were under- performing or mid-performing in school.

“Now they are rising to the expectations. They are committed and that is transformational,” she said

The students need to be in compliance with the program curriculum and they also have a pledge they take very seriously, according to Peugh.

As part of their commitment to the program, students actively participate in community projects. Martin Luther King Day of Service, where they set up and decorated hygiene bags to be distributed to the homeless, is a highlight. There was also the “Day with Santa” where Y Achievers helped children take pictures with Santa.

As for college, Caroline decided she likes medium size schools better than large ones. Boston College is her top choice. Caroline will keep the community in mind: “I want to study rare diseases and find ways to help people.”

Featured Image: This past Spring, a group of 36 Achievers from grades 8th-12th visited over eight different colleges and universities including Quinnipiac, Central Connecticut, New York University, Howard University, Springfield College, UMass Amherst, Johnson & Wales and Rhode Island School of Design. Photo, courtesy of the YMCA of Cape Cod Facebook Page, seen here.