Against All Odds: Memphis Rise Academy Rises to the Top

Challenges abound for graduating seniors

The Memphis Rise Class of 2021 was the founding class of students when the school opened in 2014. Unlike at a typical high school, these seniors didn’t have the opportunity to see the previous class stress about college applications, complete the process, nervously await their decisions, receive acceptances, and graduate. They hadn’t been able to see former students return for alumni days and answer questions about the realities of college and the real world.

Additionally, a majority of Memphis Rise students are first-generation college-going students. These students haven’t witnessed family members navigate the college application process. The process can be even more overwhelming for students whose parents did not complete elementary, middle, or high school. Therefore, administrators at Memphis Rise ask students to have faith in an abstract concept of “post-secondary education” that may sometimes seem too good to be true.

Some students at Memphis Rise have even greater obstacles to overcome to achieve CCLR goals. Some need to prioritize working over class time to support their families, especially during COVID. Others are undocumented students or have families who distrust the financial aid process.

Impressive results in an unprecedented year

Using Naviance, Memphis Rise Academy tracked and manage its 97 seniors’ progress in the college application process to four-year, two-year, and trade schools. The senior class sent out 297 applications to 90 different institutions, with approximately 219 acceptances to 71 colleges.

Of the 81 seniors who submitted applications, 74 students have been offered admission to date. Memphis Rise students received acceptances from schools across the country, including Middlebury College, Baylor University, the University of Arkansas, Spelman College, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Fisk University, UNC-Chapel Hill, DePauw University, Rhodes College, Rice University, and the University of Virginia.

Ninety-six percent of eligible seniors submitted the Tennessee Promise application for free tuition to any community college or Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Tennessee.

Naviance enables a college-going culture

How did Memphis Rise successfully support its very first graduating class when so many factors were working against them?

The school is fortunate to have an exceptionally strong College, Career, and Life Readiness (CCLR) program led by Director of Post-Secondary Counseling, Amanda Villani. As a 6-12 grade school, Memphis Rise has an opportunity to introduce post-secondary CCLR activities and advising to students at an early age. CCLR is a core part of the learning experience and is evident in the four tenets of the Post-Secondary Counseling program’s mission statement:

  • Distributive counseling
  • Multiple pathways
  • Future-oriented identities
  • Family partnerships

When Villani developed the program, she met with her peers in similar counseling roles across the country. They all stressed the importance of investing in software to help develop a college-going culture, as well as to facilitate the administrative element of the college application process. Her peers recommended Naviance as the best software solution.

Villani made a case to the school principal for considering Naviance. Memphis Rise’s leadership team learned more about its features, decided to invest, and began onboarding.

Naviance has played a critical role in the establishment and success of our CCLR or post-secondary program,” Villani says. “I am incredibly grateful to have had Naviance available throughout the pandemic and in our school’s current virtual model.

For example, Memphis Rise relies on Naviance’s assessments for their Junior Seminar curriculum. Villani explains, “Students not only take these assessments during their junior year, but the Junior Seminar activities guide students through a thorough analysis and debrief of their results, connecting them to majors, careers, and colleges.”

Naviance also eases the logistical challenges for Memphis Rise Academy’s CCLR program by providing:

  • A scheduling platform for College Rep Visits, enabling students to learn about more colleges and colleges to learn about Memphis Rise
  • A one-stop-shop for students to check their GPAs, rank, and standardized test scores
  • A primary platform for advisors and school administrators to view students’ colleges lists and upcoming deadlines, compile and send teachers’ letters of recommendation, and electronically send all transcripts, forms and standardized test scores

Villani also points out the importance of actively listening and building relationships with the school’s graduating seniors and their families. She concludes, “The key is relationships. I have found that my relationships with the members of this founding class have led to their great successes.”

Congratulations to Memphis Rise Academy for becoming an EAA finalist and effectively supporting its very first graduating class during an extraordinary year.

Topics College and Career Readiness COVID-19

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