Lehigh’s involvement with College for Every Student Brilliant Pathways (CFES) aims to help K-12 students consider higher education options after graduation and sets Lehigh students up as mentors in the Northern Lehigh School District.
CFES is an organization that works with schools to provide resources and mentorship to give underserved students access to greater opportunities.
CFES offers mentoring, essential skills training, and college and career preparation to empower students. In 30 years, CFES has helped 100,000 low-income kids go to college, said Rick Dalton, CEO and president of CFES.
Donald Outing, vice president for equity and community is a board member for CFES.
“We’re getting our students involved as near peer mentors to these middle school and high school students as they are trying to prepare themselves for college and careers beyond high school,” Outing said.
Last year, students at Northern Lehigh High School involved in the program would meet twice a month with Lehigh mentors to talk about college life, academics, applications and more, said Bob Vlasaty, the school’s principal.
Vlasaty said mentors were able to form strong connections with students and the program was positively received.
In addition to providing mentorship opportunities, the Northern Lehigh School District is focused on establishing what they define as the essential skills of CFES which are, “goal setting, agility, networking, perseverance, teamwork and leadership.”
Teachers at Northern Lehigh High School have embedded these skills into their curriculum, Vlasaty said. The middle school developed a class built into its day dedicated to the essential skills.
“We synthesize the essential skills into our daily regimen,” Vlasaty said. “If students are exhibiting those behaviors, then they are doing the right thing.”
Dalton said the essential skills are often wrongly referred to as “soft skills” or “non-cognitive skills.”
“Research has shown that the most successful students are not necessarily the ones with the highest test scores, or even the highest grades,” Dalton said. “They are the young people who have developed these essential skills.”
As part of the college and career readiness pillar of CFES, Northern Lehigh is planning a visit to Lehigh for students to understand what college is and spend time with mentors.
Dalton said because of COVID-19, many college pathway programs have been put on the backburner. Additionally, Dalton said an increased need for social and emotional support for students throughout the pandemic has taken precedence over college and career readiness support.
Low-income and first-generation students depend on support through school and different programs like CFES, Dalton said.
Matthew Link, superintendent of the Northern Lehigh School District, said although the pandemic has limited their ability to connect in person, it is remarkable how everyone involved in their CFES partnership has responded to adversity.
Link said he was proud of the effort faculty and administration as well as their own CFES scholars and Lehigh mentors have shown.
“The fact that we’re giving these students those supports where they can potentially be the first higher ed, or K-12 education graduate in their family, I’m really proud of that,” Link said.