As a recipient of Raise DC’s Learning Tour funds, members of DC Prep’s PrepNext program visited two nationally recognized college access programs in St. Louis, Missouri—inspireSTL and College Bound—to learn how to improve their own practices. PrepNext, housed within DC Prep’s cohort of public charter elementary and middle schools, supports students’ journeys to postsecondary attainment beginning in 8th grade.
PrepNext chose to visit St. Louis because of the community’s accomplishments in supporting youth from an early age on a clear path toward college and career readiness. Starting in 9th grade, College Bound provides wraparound services to students and families, guiding them along a four-step “To & Through” program into college and beyond. Similarly, inspireSTL places each of its students within high-performing college preparatory schools, where they are equipped with academic assistance and developed as leaders in their educational environments.
PrepNext Director James Kelly shares his insights from the Learning Tour:
Our visit to St. Louis was a powerful moment for the PrepNext team.
In College Bound, we saw a program that has invested in its students with similar interventions and support, built on a core ethos that values relationships as the most transformational aspect of this work. The organization created a model program—its college graduation rates rival those of high-income students in this community. This visit was particularly affirming because so many elements of our programs overlap. It was a reminder that we need to keep going forward with our model, while refining various aspects. The learnings College Bound shared with us give us direction in that refinement. Their team shared specific strategies—such as motivational interviewing—that have helped them to delve deeper with their students. These learnings will guide us in our own ongoing professional development in the year ahead and in the continued evolution of our program model.
Visiting inspireSTL was a particularly exciting experience for me, as I co-founded inspireSTL in 2011 when I was still living and teaching in St. Louis. The other co-founder, Charli Cooksey, showed us how the program has evolved and where the organization has chosen to focus its limited resources. What was interesting was that inspireSTL expanded by moving backwards—the staff decided to move the entry point to the program from 9th grade to 7th grade so that they could focus on high school readiness. We have much common ground in that respect, since the PrepNext team collaborates deeply with the middle school team at DC Prep. inspireSTL's work provides guidance to us in DC on how we can grow our own program going forward.
I have such gratitude to Raise DC for affording us this opportunity. It provided us with great affirmations of our work, gave us guidance on our next steps, and instilled in us greater urgency to continue to work through all of the challenging aspects of expanding college access for our students.
PrepNext is a member of Raise DC’s 9th Grade Counts and College, Credential, & Completion Change Networks. Check back on the Raise DC blog for more Learning Tour reflections.