Financial Aid Numbers Show Richmond Promise’s Work is Paying Off

 In Stories

Statistical gains at a number of WCCUSD high schools demonstrate the impact RP’s work is having in the field of college access

Richmond Promise staff do an in-person lesson inside a Kennedy High School classroom.

To create a college graduating culture in Richmond, helping students understand the pathways to college serves as a very important first step in the work Richmond Promise does with local students.

And, as in-classroom instruction continues to reinvent itself following the COVID-19 pandemic, Richmond Promise staff are making quantifiable inroads when it comes to college access and awareness.

One key program indicator when it comes to the work being done in the classroom is financial aid completion. Understanding the forms and processes needed to apply for financial aid can often be an arduous task for students and their families, especially for those who might also have to overcome a language barrier.

Through partnerships in classrooms throughout the West Contra Costa Unified School District, Richmond Promise is helping students make sense of the process. 

Take Kennedy High, for instance. At the end of the 2021-22 school year, 58 percent of students that Richmond Promise serves had completed their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms. 

As the end of the current school year nears, that number stands at 75 percent.

“The process for applying to college and financial aid seems like such a difficult and confusing process that many students don’t even think to try,” said Kennedy teacher Tanner Kamphefner, who partners with RP for in-class instruction. “Richmond Promise’s presentations and information do a fantastic job at explaining the process to the students in a way that is both accessible and relatable. 

“By the end of the presentations, the students can see that college is much more attainable than before, both academically and financially. This is definitely shown in our numbers at school, as more and more students are applying and getting into college.”

Because Kennedy’s student body comes entirely from Richmond, the gains being made serve as a key indicator for progress when it comes to Richmond Promise’s in-class work. 

Spearheading that work is Richmond Promise’s Director of Programs and Partnerships Miguel Molina, a Richmond High graduate who helps lead RP as one of the organization’s longest standing staff members. He is joined by College Access and Scholarship Operations Coordinator Minhal Hanif, herself an El Cerrito High grad, as well as a team that includes Richmond Promise Near-Peer Ambassadors. 

Together, the group works to visit classrooms and provide direct assistance to students.

Said longtime Kennedy teacher Jeff Pollock, who also welcomes Richmond Promise into his classroom: “Miguel is an incredible leader who is passionate about his work in the community of Richmond, California. He believes in equity for all students and enjoys the process of meeting new students and working in groups and one on one scenarios with our students. As a bilingual speaker he is able to communicate easily and fluently with our student populations at Kennedy.  He is able to motivate our students to participate in the process and has increased our participation in FAFSA completion enormously to our current 75% participation rate.  He is well organized and professional, able to recruit and retain former students who have gone through the college application process to work as workers for his program. 

“This year, Minhal was our main mentor who worked with us at Kennedy. She has an incredible personality and maintains positive relationships with our students throughout the process.  Our students looked forward to her weekly sessions and gravitated to her for advice and help. I am impressed by the other helpers in our classroom as well, as they reflected the same compassion and commitment as Minhal with our students.”

Kennedy isn’t the only school where Richmond Promise’s work is paying off. The biggest jump has come at Sylvester Greenwood Academy, where in 2021-22 only 20 percent of students completed their financial aid forms. This year, that number has climbed to 73 percent.

At El Cerrito, 78 percent of students completed financial aid forms, up from 58 percent last year. De Anza jumped from 66 to 79 percent, and Richmond High has gone from 63 percent to 69 percent.

“We do our programming through the classroom. We work with teachers to help them understand the process themselves because they have the ability to work with students directly and reinforce what we’re sharing,” Molina said. “It’s something that’s consistent—we’re showing up in the classroom over a series of months so the information is more accessible. Also, our Near-Peer Ambassadors are recent high school graduates and current college students so they are able to explain it in ways that are more understandable. They see the relationship between that process and going to college.”

Pollock adds: “I believe that public education has an onus to help students from inner cities achieve equity in the classroom through supporting their academic needs as well as their future goals. RP has been an excellent partner for me at Kennedy to promote new pathways for our students to follow once they graduate. RP is giving them a step up towards equity and inclusion in a pathway that has traditionally been ignored or underrepresented in our community at Kennedy.”

By the end of high school, students also know that financial assistance is available from Richmond Promise directly. RP recently welcomed 468 students as its newest cohort of scholarship recipients. Many students learn of the scholarship through these direct classroom contacts and their work with Promise staff.

As Richmond Promise continues to grow, the work being done in the classroom will also continue to evolve. What won’t change is RP’s commitment to helping every possible Richmond student to get to and through college.

“Having Richmond Promise in the classroom gives the students access to valuable resources that I can’t necessarily offer,” Kamphefner said. “Many, if not all, of the presenters are Richmond natives that have similar backgrounds to my students, and having success stories come back and show the students that it is possible for them to do whatever they want goes above and beyond what I can convey to them just through my own experiences.”

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