The Liberty LEADS program in Bank Street College’s Division of Continuing Education
At the Bank Street College of Education, its Division of Continuing Education conducts much of the college’s outreach efforts through a multitude of direct service and professional development programs. One of its oldest and most successful programs is Liberty LEADS. As its director, I get to work with a brilliant and dedicated group of professionals, and we get to work for some of the most amazing young people you will ever meet.
· A 19-year-old dropout prevention and college access program, Liberty LEADS serves the educational and psycho-social needs of an academically diverse group of 300 students in grades five through twelve each year.
· The majority of our students come from low-income families, and enter the program in the fifth, seventh, or ninth grade. In ninth grade, they either apply to our selective college pathway or remain in our more flexible pathway to all colleges.
· Liberty LEADS is guided by the principle that all children have gifts, talents, and great potential, and can contribute to one another's social and academic growth.
We offer a wide range of services: During the school year and in the summer months, students receive Advisement, Academic Support, Leadership Development, Test Prep, College Prep, Cultural Enrichment, Counseling, and Mentoring Activities. They are prepared for admission to college or for meaningful employment. Last year’s results include:
· An overall in-school retention rate of 92 percent;
· 87 percent of eligible students improved PSAT and SAT scores by 200-400 points;
· In our selective college pathway, 100 percent of graduating seniors were admitted to selective and competitive four-year colleges;
· In our more flexible pathway, where 75 percent of our students were originally referred because of poor academic performance, 90 percent completed high school on time, and 100 percent of those who applied were admitted to college.
Because we know that academic interventions alone are not enough, we also offer Holistic/Comprehensive services. New students undergo an extensive psychosocial intake so we can identify their needs and respond accordingly. We create high expectations in the context of a fun, friendly community because, while you can have the greatest programs, if the kids don’t like the “vibe,” they won’t show up.
Liberty LEADS uses program evaluation data to adjust and improve our program design. For example, in 2002 we realized we were losing 60 percent of male students between the eighth and ninth grades. Research showed that nationwide many other programs had difficulty serving young men of color. We re-evaluated our program and added an 18-month recruitment and retention “Adventure-Based Counseling” program.
In the ABC program, we utilize group social work modalities to help students redefine their sense of themselves. Through environmental summer programs, backpacking trips, and counseling groups, students gain confidence by successfully completing arduous activities while processing their experiences. For example, in our “Wilderness Adventure Group,” nine young men go on a six-day backpacking trip in the Catskills, where they take charge of choosing the hiking trail; doing the cooking and clean-up; and setting up and breaking down the camp. Anyone not holding up his end is called out by his companions, not the group leaders, a much more effective strategy. Last, we reinforce the point that if you can survive in the mountains for six days, then finishing high school is also doable. Does it work? Well, our male retention rate is now 85 percent, and males comprise 51 percent of our program.
Over our 19 years, students have told amazingly similar stories—all involving an awareness of their gifts, an understanding of their inner resiliency, and a recognition that the program offered something special. While most do not know much about Bank Street founder Lucy Sprague Mitchell, her words are often echoed in those of our graduates.
“A good life is a learning life,” wrote Mitchell. One 2001 graduate wrote: “The most valuable lesson I learned in Liberty is that education is an enjoyable pastime. Once you gain a joy and a passion for learning, success is no longer in question.” He goes on: “Without Liberty, I would probably not have made it through college, high school, or even junior high. But their intervention and nurturing support continued to focus and refocus my vision. Now in turn, I have a life-long commitment to similar students in need. I tell students to love the program, enjoy it, embrace it, and then enhance it.”
This is what Liberty LEADS is all about. #
Farhad Asghar is the Director of the Liberty LEADS program in the Division of Continuing Education at the Bank Street College of Education.