Over the last two semesters, Bowdoin students have traveled to Portland weekly to help prepare high school juniors, many of them first-generation Americans or from low-income backgrounds, study for the SATs and apply to college.
The Bowdoin students are part of Let’s Get Ready, a New York City-based nonprofit that aims to give all students, regardless of their socioeconomic background, equal access to the support they need to reach college.
The organization was founded in 1998 by a Harvard undergraduate, and enlists and trains college students to provide free SAT coaching and college preparation for college-bound high schoolers.
The Let’s Get Ready program began serving high school students in Portland last fall with the help of Bowdoin student coaches. It also started another tutoring program in Lewiston this spring with Bates College, and will run a program this summer in collaboration with Bowdoin Upward Bound on Bowdoin’s campus.
Two Bowdoin students were hired last semester, and two this semester, to act as site directors. Paid a $1,750 stipend, the site directors are responsible for locating coaching sites at high schools, recruiting roughly 20 student coaches from campus per semester, advertising the program at high schools and scoring tests.
Last semester, Emily Kim ‘12 and Mark Ragusa ‘14 acted as site directors. This semester, Mariya Ilyas ’13 and Dahyanira Ramirez ’15 are in those roles. Ilyas says she and Ramirez recruited nine verbal coaches and seven math coaches from campus to mentor 30 high school juniors who signed up for the free program.
“It’s so much fun to get off campus and teach,” Ilyas says. “The students are highly involved. They really want to go to college. To see their motivation was very inspiring to me. It forced me, and all the other coaches, to be equally invested.”
Many of the high school students will be the first in their families to attend college. Some of them speak English as their second language. Michelle Johnson ’15, a verbal coach this semester, says when she asked Let’s Get Ready students about their place of origin, she got these responses: Armenia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Somalia, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Maine.
Johnson says she always looked forward to her once-a-week coaching nights as a refreshing break, and is thinking about applying to be site director. “I really liked having small classes and getting to know the students,” she says. Each coach teaches no more than four or five students. “I tried to keep the SATs, which are pretty boring, as exciting as possible.”
Let’s Get Ready asks for a big time commitment from its college coaches, who, unlike the site directors, are all unpaid. This semester Bowdoin’s coaches drove to Portland High School twice a week to coach students from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Verbal coaches go one evening a week; math coaches go another evening. They also assisted students with other college preparation activities, such as helping them draft college essays.
In 2011, Let’s Get Ready says it enlisted and trained 1,000 college student volunteers to serve 2,550 students in 63 programs throughout the northeast. On average, its high school students increase their SAT scores by 112 points, and over 93% of them go directly to college after high school, according to the organization’s data.
Let’s Get Ready is just one of many mentoring programs run by Bowdoin students on campus through the Bowdoin Volunteer Corps.
Ilyas says she hopes that someday one of the high school students mentored by a Bowdoin Let’s Get Ready coach will get accepted to her college. “It would be so neat to see a success story at Bowdoin,” she says.