Weehawken students get help with college applications

The school district has partnered with Command Education

A Weehawken student works intently during Command Education's Application Booster Camp. Photo courtesy of the Weehawken School District
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A Weehawken student works intently during Command Education's Application Booster Camp. Photo courtesy of the Weehawken School District

“How are we going to get those advantages over other districts, over other students, not only around the country but around the world?” asked Weehawken Superintendent of Schools Eric Crespo.

That question led to what is now a public-private partnership with the company Command Education to help students get an edge during the college application process.

“The college admissions landscape is just constantly changing,” Crespo said.

He cited frequently fluctuating factors, including standardized testing scores, internships, and admissions essays.

“All of those things are constantly in a state of flux, so why not partner with experts?” Crespo said.

According to Crespo, parents were hiring companies to assist their kids with college admissions, which inspired him to contact Command Education.

“I was surprised to hear that they really hadn’t partnered with school districts,” he said.

Crespo continued: “We talk a lot about equity and making sure our students have all of these opportunities. When this came to mind, I thought our students should have the same opportunities that anybody else has, regardless of their socioeconomic status. And that led me to call some of the best in the business.”

A changing landscape

“There are so many new updates and policies, and not everything is truly clear,” said Christopher Rim, CEO of Command Education. “Not only for students, but also for a lot of schools. We’re seeing a lot counselors, even in private schools that supposedly have world-class counseling offices, giving students not necessarily the most accurate, up-to-date information. It’s very confusing, and this process changes and changes.”

According to Rim, Command seeks to clarify what students from the Weehawken School District can do to stand out and maximize their chances as they navigate the college application process. Rim said this starts with soon-to-be seniors.

Command is in the midst of its first three-week workshop, Application Booster Camp, focusing on college essays.

“We will guide them through this process, one by one,” Rim said. “It’s not a group, it’s very personalized.”

It’s free to students.

“Students are meeting with us three times a week, about three to four times a day,” Rim said. “So it’s pretty much an intense boot camp. Typically, these types of programs and offerings are only available for people with disposable income and additional resources. So it was really exciting for us to hear from the Weehawken School District to explore a partnership.”

New partnership blooms

This is Command’s first program of its kind.

“We’ve done some events here or there, for school PTAs, but it was like a one-off, 30-minute event,” Rim said. “So we’re very excited to see how this partnership grows together.”

Crespo added that while Command is working with rising seniors, programs are available for other grade levels, including rising ninth graders.

“We had a night with Command with our rising ninth graders late last spring, right before the summer, which was well attended,” Crespo said. “You could have 200 attendees at the start of the session, but how many of them are going to stay throughout? The amazing part is, because the information is being provided and because of the importance of the information, every rising ninth grader stayed on the session. Their parents stayed on, and they took that information.”

Crespo said parents have called and emailed him about how beneficial the program is. Programs for other grades are available.

“It’s really focusing on each grade level and what each grade level needs as they prepare to eventually be in that Booster Writing Camp,” Crespo said. “This is part of our Triple F program, which is Fueling Futures Forever.”

Giving students an edge

“We have been successful where last year I think we had three or four of our students accepted into Ivy League schools,” Crespo said. “It’s really about the school of your choice. Your passion might not be an Ivy, which is fine. But we want to make sure that we hit everyone’s passion. So we also included internships.”

Crespo said the internships aim to connect students with their passion.

“It’s not just doing an internship to put on the college application, it’s really making the alignment so that they can separate themselves from everyone else,” Crespo said.

According to Crespo, the Command program has become one of the major components of the district’s long-term strategic plan alongside Advanced Placement (AP) classes, dual enrollment, and internships.

“I feel like we’re just scratching the surface,” Crespo said. “There’s so much more we could do.”

Looking ahead

Rim agreed. The idea is to connect with ninth graders immediately after they have started the school year and let them know what they can start doing regarding the college admissions process.

Command will inform students of what types of courses they should be looking for, what kind of volunteering opportunities they can get involved with, what options are left, what projects they can do, company or business, among others important info.

Command tells students, “We’re going to provide you with those tools and resources,” Rim said. “It’s not only about getting into the best possible college, but also learning about what you’re interested in and how you can take that to be successful no matter what college you go to. Just because you go to an Ivy League school does not mean you’re going to be successful. It’s really about who you are and what you do, your interests and passions. ”

Rim said students need to find interesting jobs that they’re passionate about.

“If you do what you’re interested in, you’re going to work harder and you’re going to be able to dedicate more time to it,” Rim said. “That’s ultimately what we want to do: provide resources for students and guide them as mentors, as they navigate this process.”

More in the works

“I think there’s a lot more than just helping students go to top colleges that will stem from our partnership,” Rim said. “I’m really excited to see what other programs and or opportunities we will be able to come up with.”

According to Rim, some ideas for new opportunities include helping students plan for jobs and internships next summer and helping them plan for the application process for summer programs at top universities.

Crespo said that the earlier students start the better, which is why the district pushed up interest inventories tests to gauge student passions starting in the third grade.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do in the third grade, but I knew what I was interested in,” Crespo said. “So we can nurture those things and make sure we can fuel growth… We always say we’ve been dream fulfillers.”

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.