Alliance Grantee Spotlight: Access Academy

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Access Academy is an Extended Learning Opportunity (ELO) program that provides traditionally underrepresented students in Manchester schools with access to high-quality learning experiences in a unique college setting. In April, 175 students representing over 25 countries and languages celebrated their hard work over the spring semester at St. Anselm College. 

As a recipient of the NH Alliance for College and Career Readiness grant, Access Academy is working to promote equity in education and increasing access to high-quality work-based learning opportunities. 

The program, which began in 2009, has helped refugee, immigrant, first-generation, and low-income students prepare for college through rigorous academic courses like public speaking, human rights, computer science, writing for identity and freedom, quantum physics, and more. 

But what makes Access Academy unique is their focus on helping traditionally underrepresented students gain the skills, confidence, and knowledge to pursue and succeed in higher education. 

To achieve this goal, Access Academy offers courses in college admissions to help students navigate the college application process. Faculty and students from the college serve as mentors to students, helping to provide insight and guidance to students. Their College and Career Exploration program exposes students to opportunities, career days, and an Interview Skills Workshop. 

“As a first generation [student], the road to college was not clear,” says Smriti Hoda, a former Academy participant whose parents emigrated from Nepal, in an article about the program. “[T]he Academy allowed me to interact with actual professors and college students; this was critical! I gained the confidence to apply to six colleges and got acceptance to all of them. This program opened a door to a world of opportunities.”

About the program

Housed at St. Anselm College, Access Academy serves students from all four Manchester high schools. Students are bused to campus after school to take their courses, and then have a community dinner before being bused back to school in the evening. 

Courses are taught by St. Anselm students, sometimes in conjunction with college faculty, who serve as mentors to Academy participants. 

“I loved how most of the Academy classes were taught by the college students. This made my experience more personable,” says Sneha Hoda, a former Academy participant. “It was easier to ask for help when needed. Everyone was very approachable and welcoming. They were great role models and mentors to the high schoolers.”

Students can also earn credit for their courses as an Extended Learning Opportunity, which are credit-bearing experiences that happen outside of a traditional classroom. Almost 7,000 New Hampshire students have participated in an ELO since September 2018, through internships, community service, independent studies, and courses like those offered at Access Academy. 

ELO Coordinators in Manchester high schools work with Access Academy participants and St. Anselm faculty to ensure that the courses are rigorous and warrant academic credit, and students have to show what they’ve learned through a capstone at the end of the semester. 

How has the Alliance helped?

In 2018, Access Academy received a $5,000 grant from the Alliance to deepen and advance their capacity. 

Dr. Terri Greene Henning , the Academy’s coordinator, says that recruitment is a challenge. They rely mostly on word of mouth, but have faced obstacles, including language barriers. 

With the funds from the Alliance, the Academy has recruited ambassadors to serve as leaders in their communities and thus deepen and expand outreach and engagement. They also bought a computer and camera to capture student experiences and provide Academy participants with hands-on learning opportunities in video editing, content management, and how to use the technology.

“We’re putting their voices together and hoping to get enough footage to create videos to speak directly to students and families. We have students talk in English and in their native language about Access Academy, to speak directly to their peers,” she said.

“Already, it’s so powerful. We want to hear these kids’ stories. You can’t get that on print,” she continued. 

About The Alliance

The Alliance is a diverse and collaborative group focused on bridging policy, communications, and engagement efforts to help all NH students graduate college and career ready. Alliance members include representatives from K-12 education, postsecondary education, business &industry, and the nonprofit sector.

The Alliance works to create demand for a college and career readiness agenda by staying grounded in the reality of what is taking place in our classrooms and by taking a holistic view of the issues. As such, the Alliance operates as an independent and autonomous entity driven by its unique ethos of intentional grassroots engagement and support as an anchor for system-level changes to college and career readiness in New Hampshire.