Anthony Downing, young and energetic, has no problem working weekends, evenings and summers to push and cajole Schurz High School students to go to college.

Downing is exactly what CPS officials were looking for when they posted jobs for college coaches: someone who has worked with teenagers and knows the logistics of getting them into college, yet is less costly than a certified guidance counselor.

But the investment has taken a toll, according to researcher James Rosenbaum.

“Although coaches found their job gratifying, the commitments were grueling, and many of these individuals had already left their positions at the time we interviewed them, only one or two years after starting,” he wrote.

Downing says the job can be difficult but offers a lot of rewards. He is known at Juarez as the guy who knows how to get kids into college and finds money to help them pay for it. “Next to the principal, I am the most popular person at the school,” he says.

In Rosenbaum’s report, he notes that coaches, because of the limited scope of their jobs, can focus their efforts on students who generally don’t get much college guidance.

For instance, several coaches noticed that students with special needs were getting little to no attention, so they planned special college fairs for these students. Another coach decided to host a financial-aid seminar for undocumented students, who are not eligible for funds from many traditional sources. Another coach worked over the summer with a group of “B” students who didn’t have any plans for what they’d be doing after graduation.

With 72 percent of Morgan Park High School students going to college, college coach Henry Walker says his priority is keeping them from dropping out. “The whole point for when they go to college is to leave with a degree.”

Walker also notes he followed the lead of Simeon college coach Yolanda Taylor and recruited teachers to serve as mentors to seniors who are applying to college.

Likewise, Taylor says she picked up a few pointers from Morgan Park, such as getting an early start talking to students about college. Since Simeon is a career academy, many students are aiming to learn a trade and land a job rather than go to college, Taylor says.

To counter this culture, she persuades teachers, parents and community partners to talk to students about college being attainable. “They need to hear it from multiple layers, starting in freshman year,” she says.

Sarah is the deputy editor of Catalyst Chicago.

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