By TORCH staff: Kim Horner, Teddy Gelderman and Jojo Schmidt, August guest bloggers
Northfield TORCH (Tackling Obstacles and Raising College Hopes) started with a goal: to increase the graduation rate among Latino students at Northfield High School. Now, eight years later, the Latino graduation rate is consistently over 90%, and the TORCH program has expanded to support all underserved students pursing postsecondary education, including low-income and first generation college-bound students.
TORCH is thrilled that many alumni have now earned AA and BA degrees, as well as acceptance into master’s level programs. Now, TORCH has started addressing new gaps. Postsecondary education is an important step for underserved student populations, however, the ultimate goal is for TORCH students to live meaningful, successful lives after they graduate. Unfortunately, despite on-going support and continued higher education, many TORCH students were falling short of their personal and professional dreams. For example, the TORCH program helped one former graduate find a paid internship — only to have her request an unpaid job shadow because she did not feel she was “qualified enough” to be paid for her work. Though bright and capable, too many students struggle to recognize their own abilities, and accept less than their full potential.
A large factor in students’ struggle to reach their potential is internal barriers, or the restrictions that students place on themselves. These barriers have the power to shape individuals’ lives and prevent them from success because they do not perceive some opportunities as viable options. For many TORCH students, these barriers first stood in the way of high school graduation, then postsecondary education. Now many TORCH students must overcome internal barriers preventing them from seeking opportunities in the workforce. The risk is that students won’t move forward, remaining caught in the cycle of poverty.
To address this trend, TORCH is developing new programming aimed specifically at helping students overcome their own barriers and perceptions about what they are qualified to do in the workforce. Changing perspectives takes time, and requires well-supported programming. TORCH now supports a more extensive mentorship program. By pairing TORCH students with college-aged mentors, students will have role models who are currently exploring and pursuing their own dreams. Again and again, TORCH sees the enormous gains made possible by positive relationships, and we are excited to foster new relationships between TORCH students and the college community in Northfield.
Additionally, a job and internship program for juniors and seniors will begin this fall. With support from Workforce Development, this program will equip students with job skills such as resume writing and interviewing. In addition, in collaboration with the Northfield community, the program will place students in internship positions, allowing them to explore careers in their fields of interest. By engaging students in potential career paths, we hope to make those paths tangible and more viable for students. Students will develop their workplace skills, but also gain an understanding of their own talents and interests.
Despite the many successes of the TORCH program, there is still much to be done. We cannot break down internal barriers overnight, but with supportive relationships, experience with job skills, and exposure to workplace opportunities, TORCH students will have a better chance at personal and professional success. TORCH depends on collaboration with community partners and we look forward to your advice and suggestions. Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below if you have any thoughts or ideas!