Emma Brandt serves as the College Access Unlimited AmeriCorps*VISTA at Blackstone Academy Charter School, working on developing college access resources and trainings to support staff and students in achieving postsecondary goals! Read below for Emma’s story of service as a Rhode Island Campus Compact AmeriCorps*VISTA.
Host Site: Blackstone Academy Charter School
Where did you go to school? Brown University
What are your personal and professional interests? Reading, baking, hiking, travel, needlework, board games, Shakespeare, and teaching.
If you could have any super power, what would it be? Definitely flying.
Story of Service:
I knew next to nothing about Blackstone Academy when I accepted the VISTA position there—I had never been there, never heard of it before I applied, and had spoken for a brief half-hour on the phone with my wonderful supervisor and principal, Kyleen Carpenter. After graduating, I wanted to stay in Rhode Island for a while and get to know the local community a little better, but had only the vaguest idea of how that idea would take shape.
When I arrived at Blackstone in August 2014, I quickly realized that I had been extremely lucky. Blackstone is a small charter school in Pawtucket with 165 students and a friendly, community-oriented, college-emphasizing school culture; I entered the building to find walls of college brochures and pennants and a chatty, welcoming group of teachers and students. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wonder what I could do to help a school that already seemed to have such a good grasp on, well, everything.
As I was soon to learn, there is basically no such thing as too much support for the college process, especially at a school like Blackstone, which has a large proportion of first-generation students. These students often don’t have any family members who have gone to college, and need not only to be educated on every aspect of the application and financial aid processes, but also to be empowered to handle these processes themselves for the rest of their time in college. Some of the most pressing issues were successfully involving families in the college process, helping students fill daunting financial aid gaps with scholarships and grants, and making sure students entered the process prepared and educated about all of the options available to them.
With all that in mind, I compiled a report on the strengths and needs of Blackstone’s college process and began trying to implement some of my recommendations. I have started senior-and-junior level scholarship application clubs, crafted presentations to educate students in financial literacy and the college process, developed curriculum on college preparedness, and worked on every step of the financial aid application process. I have yet to create a guide to the college process at Blackstone and work on standardizing the process ahead of the school’s upcoming expansion. More than anything, however, I have learned so much by working with the school’s bright and creative staff and students and had first-hand experience of the challenges of managing the college process—I would recommend this position to anyone.