Taylor Ramsey is the Executive Director of OneGoal Metro Atlanta, one of our College Access Partners. Prior to this role, Taylor served as VP of training and support at Teach For America, leading their national summer teacher training institute, overseeing a team of 100 staff members, working in close concert with APS to serve summer school students, and training over 1,800 teachers. As a first-generation college student, Taylor knows the power of a postsecondary opportunity and is honored to lead OneGoal as part of the broader Achieve Atlanta education effort, in partnership with APS.
What are some of the things you’ve been hearing from students and families?
In the early days of this crisis, students continued to ask the very practical questions that any college bound student has. “How do I get my transcripts? How do I continue with FAFSA verification? What if I haven’t heard back from a college yet?”
Now, students are mourning the major rites of passage they are missing (prom, graduation, the last day of senior year). One student shared, “I feel a deep sadness at not being able to say goodbye to my friends and teachers—they’ve done so much for me.” Our students are experiencing real grief and loss.
When I ask students what they most need, one APS student shared without hesitation, “I need hope. I will be devastated if college doesn’t open in the fall and I don’t know what I’ll do.”
Understandably students want the full college experience, which includes campus life. As students’ financial pictures change, they will increasingly ask if this is the right time to start college. Many students are staying on the path, taking all the steps to get to school, and feel real uncertainty and fear about what the fall holds.
This experience should cause us to ask why postsecondary attainment is so hard in the first place. OneGoal’s mission is to close the degree divide in our lifetime and this pandemic should lead us to ask if we are doing all we can to realize this, fast enough. Through this tragedy, our students have not given up on their dreams and we can’t either.
How have OneGoal teachers and program directors responded to the changes?
Well, first, let me take a moment to wish our OneGoal teachers and all teachers a happy Teacher Appreciation Week!
Our teachers are managing their personal and family needs while adjusting to distance learning. Our program team stepped up to convert curriculum to an online format and help students on the final steps of enrollment and financial aid. Teachers have continued to work with students 1:1, attend online trainings and check-ins, and ensure this crisis doesn’t knock students off their postsecondary paths. I’ve watched students join their OneGoal class from their kitchen tables, cars, bedrooms—any quiet corner (or not so quiet corner), often with siblings and parents listening in, in the background. Despite obstacles, students are showing up so that they can continue to support one another through this challenging time so that they can remain on their postsecondary paths.
How has OneGoal’s adjusted its model/workstyle/perspective since COVID-19 began?
On March 12th, the OneGoal team was in classrooms participating in our junior’s career pitch days and earlier that week holding a training for our current OneGoal teachers. Suffice to say, it was an abrupt shift that caused us to quickly ask, ‘What do our students, teachers, and schools need and what is OneGoal best positioned to contribute?” Our quick response was to extend care and compassion for the shared crisis we were all experiencing and to be responsive in the ways we could to the personal challenges we knew many would face. We knew that helping people attending to their personal needs was going to be primary to anything postsecondary related. We prioritized 1:1 wellness checks with our students and community building across our high school cohorts. As an added layer of support, we have extended emergency grants to students transitioning back from college who need support with unexpected expenses.
In the short-term we are narrowing our focus and prioritizing enrollment in college and technical programs for our seniors and freshman year persistence for our postsecondary students, which means helping them successfully complete their spring semester and ensuring they enroll for fall semester.
How is OneGoal working to bridge the gap – both the transition between high school graduation and college enrollment and the gaps being created/widening due to COVID-19 impacts?
The COVID-19 crisis has given us a whole new understanding of the ways in which educational inequity exacerbates economic and social inequity. A postsecondary degree has protected the health and livelihood of many. We are seeing firsthand how barriers to education also lead to barriers in healthcare, access to paid sick leave, adequate workforce protections, and salaried wages. The disproportionate impact of the crisis on low-income communities and communities of color has been a grave reminder of why we cannot underestimate the enormous effect degree attainment has on our lives. For all these reasons, the work of Achieve Atlanta, OneGoal, College Advising Corps, our district and school partners, parent advocates, and like-minded cross sector allies, are needed now more than ever.
OneGoal’s orientation has always been to help students understand their individual aspirations and pursue the post-secondary path that realizes their dreams. We have always looked at each student as individuals and tailored our coaching to meet those needs. That has not changed. We do want to see students seamlessly enroll and we recognize that a whole host of factors may make these decisions exponentially harder this year. In anticipation of many more challenges, our aim is to equip our students and their families with good information and guidance as they make the choice that is right for them. Our students have access to our resource hub and know how to sign up for 1:1 advising sessions, as well as our nationally created enrollment guide. We are prepared to lean in with them over this summer as they navigate these unprecedented times and want our students to know they are not alone.
What do you think this crisis has taught OneGoal?
In the here and now, this has caused us at OneGoal to reflect on what our core mission is and be flexible about the “how”. It’s raised questions for us on the degree to which more of our content should be online and individualized and whether we may need to accelerate efforts to do so in general and in anticipation for a school year that looks very different than before. And of course, would need to deal with not only the degree divide but the digital divide as well.
Big picture, we know our students and their families are likely to be some of the hardest hit during this pandemic and this calls into stark relief the ways in which a postsecondary degree help safeguard individuals and families in myriad ways. The road to college is challenging in the best of circumstances and will be even harder in the coming months.
Taylor was featured in our May 8th e-newsletter that you can read here.