South Orangetown Central School District

TZHS Counseling Team with SUNY Oswego Admissions Representative

Over the past few years, the TZHS Counseling Department has formalized its efforts to support students who will be the first generation in their immediate family to attend college.

Age-appropriate instruction for all students regarding college and career exploration begins in elementary grades, in accordance with New York State Education Department guidance for comprehensive developmental school counseling/guidance programs. For many, college is also a familiar topic of discussion at home.

“Within families in which at least one parent has a four-year college degree, casual conversations often begin many years before the application process starts,” reported School Counseling Team Lead Kelly Keane. “First generation students typically don’t benefit from that extended, informal transfer of knowledge, so we need to start early and work closely with them to bridge that gap.”

TZHS school counselors report that overall student demand for college preparation is skewing younger. Between September and December, the high school counseling team hosts a series of grade-specific parent workshops for all families on topics ranging from course selection to extracurricular participation to post-graduation pathways. (View presentation slides here.)

To aid in the early identification of first generation students, the Counseling Department surveyed all ninth through eleventh graders. Approximately 20 percent of all surveyed students self-reported as being first generation.

Last fall, the counseling team introduced a four-session series of in-school lunch period workshops last fall to help these students prepare for college. Initial workshops included conversations with students regarding their college knowledge, the topics they wanted to learn more about and overall questions and concerns. SUNY Oswego Admissions Counselor Margarita Katsaitis recently shared her own first generation experience and informed students about the SUNY Educational Opportunity Program (EOP). EOP provides financial aid, academic support and access for academically-promising students from economically and historically disadvantaged backgrounds. A similar program, Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP), expands access to private colleges and universities. Katsaitis also discussed the New York State Excelsior Scholarship, which covers tuition for eligible economically-disadvantaged SUNY and CUNY students.

“The main goal is to expose our first generation to the world of college to better prepare them for what is ahead,” noted School Counselor Glenda Rivera.