By Cameron Aloway, Cleveland Foundation Marketing & Communications Intern
Leean Andino achieved a milestone with her graduation in May. Earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Andino became the first Say Yes to Education Cleveland scholarship student to graduate from college. Completing her degree from Cleveland State University in two years, Andino plans to obtain her master’s in the clinical psychology program.
Leean is one of thousands of Cleveland students who will benefit from Say Yes to Education Cleveland, which provides tuition gap-filling scholarships as well as mentoring support to students in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) and partnering charter schools who choose to attend college or an eligible certificate program after graduating high school. In addition to scholarships and mentoring, Say Yes provides in-school support like mental health services and legal aid to K-12 students and their families, with a goal to eliminate the barriers that hold students back from success in the classroom.
Say Yes Cleveland has rolled out in-school support services to 42 CMSD and partnering charter schools so far, with a commitment to extend its support services to all CMSD and partnering charter schools by 2023. The organization just recently announced an additional 26 schools that have been selected to receive support services starting in the 2021-2022 school year. This will bring the total number of schools with support services to 68 — nearly 65% of all eligible district and charter schools.
While progress has been made in expanding Say Yes support services to more schools each year, the program experienced multiple setbacks due to the pandemic. The effects of COVID resulted in financial and health uncertainty for many students and their families. Last fall, 187 students did not enroll in college, contrary to their initial plans. To keep students and families engaged safely during the pandemic, the organization adapted its support programs to a remote environment. For example, Say Yes Cleveland began working with organizations like College Now Greater Cleveland to showcase virtual college fairs to high school students. This created new opportunities to reexamine the distribution of its services and information. CMSD Director of Career and College Readiness, Anthony Battaglia, said that cross-promotion of information across schools became easier and allowed more flexibility for students’ schedules.
The nonprofit’s family support specialists also adapted to a remote format. Specialists lent support during school drive-thru technology distribution events and handed out necessary resources for parents. Essential resources promoted through Say Yes Cleveland included home internet access or connections to Academic Learning Pods, which provide students facing difficulty with remote learning a safe place to attend virtual lessons. Recognizing that the current circumstances might cause some students to delay enrollment in post-secondary programs, Say Yes Cleveland also extended students’ access to its scholarships to two years if they are graduating during the pandemic.
Say Yes Cleveland provides a multitude of opportunities for those interested in becoming involved with the program. For example, donations can be made to help support future Say Yes scholarships and support services. Eligible participants can also apply to become a mentor in the program and engage with active scholarship students. To learn more about the essential role mentors play in Say Yes Cleveland, visit https://sayyescleveland.org/get-involved/mentor/.