This week a new national service corps launches its website and application process. Blue Engine, based in New York City, aims to recruit a corps of about a dozen fellows to facilitate daily, differentiated, small-group instruction for high school freshmen.
Nick Ehrmann—Blue Engine’s engine and a Teach For America alum—says that we know how to get high-needs kids into college, or getting them “college eligible” — nonprofits and schools have been targeting and tackling hurdles like high school completion, college admissions, and financial assistance.
But, while the high school drop-out problem is far from solved, groups are paying far less attention to college completion rates for high-needs kids, or “college readiness.”
Blue Engine aims to close the gap between college eligibility and college readiness. Watch the video that explains:
A startling statistic: for every 100 kids from low-income families who make it into college, only 15 end up graduating (within five years, from any college).
The problem, according to Nick and others who’ve looked into it, is that our kids who find themselves working hard to get into college, and then leaving, aren’t exposed to the rigorous academic coursework in high school that predicts successful college outcomes.
Also, they get a lot of support in high school that helps them graduate high school and get into college, but comparable support structures often don’t exist at the college level that would help them succeed and complete undergraduate degrees.
Read the story of one high schooler Travis Hill who made it to college but once transplanted to a new state, and in debt, taking remedial courses that wouldn’t count towards his degree, he dropped out.
Blue Engine’s goal then is to leverage the efforts of national service members to support both students and their teachers by offering daily, academically demanding, small-group tutoring sessions for high school freshmen whose long-term chances of completing college are currently about 15 percent.
In the launch year (2010-11), Blue Engine fellows will focus on Algebra I. Algebra I-mastery is a gateway to higher level math courses, which in turn have been shown to be strong predictors of college success. Blue Engine fellows don’t have to be math whizzes. The program will offer refresher algebra sessions as well as tutoring methods workshops to get all fellows on the same page.
How the Blue Engine Program will work
Blue Engine fellows start in late summer with several weeks of training. As the school year begins, each fellow will be matched with a dozen or so high school freshmen, and throughout the entire school year, each fellow will offer small groups (of two to five) freshmen tailored instruction in Algebra I—every school day.
Fellows will work closely with teachers and counselors to shape and inform their small-group work, and they will also communicate regularly with parents. Other responsibilities will include exposing their kids to college through college campus visits and taking on leadership roles in after-school programming.
Like Peace Corps and Teach For America, Blue Engine fellows will be able to take on secondary roles as needed — support roles within the high school building that inform the fellows’ work with high schoolers as well as widening their view of the work and career paths of public high schools.
Training and support
Fellows will receive regular training and support both in helping them become more effective small-group instructors as well as introducing general professional and career development support. Training begins in August with an intense three weeks — eight hours a day — of pre-service training. See the topics covered during training. Throughout the year, fellows will offer, and lead, training sessions to address their ongoing needs as they work with high schoolers, and including professional development and career transitions topics.
In addition to training, support, and professional benefits, Blue Engine fellows will earn $1200/month and get a transit pass. And since Blue Engine is currently applying for AmeriCorps funding through the New York state Commission on Volunteering and Service, the program may be able to offer all the educational benefits associated with the Eli Segal Education Award, including awarding each fellow who completes their term over $5,000 to apply to future or past qualified educational expenses, forbearance on qualified student loans during the term, and payment of interest on students loans that accrues during the term. Read more about living on a budget during the Blue Engine year.
Blue Engine is recruiting its inaugural team of fellows right now—its first deadline is March 10th, and its second deadline is April 28th. Check out the timeline.
The competitive fellowship program has a basic application, a round of phone interviews, and finally a very selective round of in-person interviews. Read the Admissions FAQs.
Blue Engine is looking for recent college graduates who’ve earned at least a 2.5 GPA and are eligible to work in the United States as citizens or permanent residents, who have the grit and determination to help high schoolers win. Read more about the kind of people Blue Engine wants on its inaugural team.
Why “Blue Engine”?
Blue Engine was named after a Shel Silverstein poem “The Little Blue Engine” about a little blue train that puffs and chugs up a steep hill, but loses momentum and crashes. The moral? “If the track is tough and the hill is rough, thinking you can just ain’t enough.”
The little blue engine needs an extra (strategic, smart) push to get it over the hill, and that is what Blue Engine will attempt to be for its high schoolers.