College Track New Orleans: Eliminating Systemic Barriers To College Since 2008

College Track New Orleans students at Vanderbilt University on their annual "On the Run College Tour" in 2018. Tiara Jones is centered. Photo courtesy: @collegetrackneworleans on Instagram.

By Darreonna Davis, Howard University News Service

College Track New Orleans (CTNO) is a 10-year college completion program that seeks to eliminate systemic barriers for first-generation, low-income and students of color.

CTNO recruits students as early as their 8th-grade year to be a part of their program. During high school, students are required to attend 3–5-hour weekly workshops under the guise of their three areas of support: academic affairs, student life and college completion. 

Academic affairs workshops at CTNO can range from one-on-one tutoring to college note-taking preparation courses to standardized testing “boot camps.” According to a report by the Louisiana Department of Education, 2020 graduates in Orleans Parish had an average 18 composite score on the American College Test (ACT) compared to the national average of 20.6. 

CTNO is hoping to level the field of opportunity for its scholars by providing ACT testing materials, such as free ACT Prep books and mock tests. “As a student of color, I’m not rich. Having access to those tools really boosted my eligibility in being able to get into Tulane,” said Tiara Jones, a CTNO scholar and freshman ecology and evolutionary biology major at the number one college in Louisiana. Jones is a first-generation college student on the pre-veterinary track who has spoken on panels to investors about student interests and the diversity at CTNO.

Student life workshops at CTNO provide scholars with social-emotional support through mentorship and service-based learning that centers the students’ passions, dreams and leadership development. In their Student life workshops, students lead community service initiatives, develop bills to present before Louisiana legislators, learn self-love and advocacy and much more.

Ja’Niya Carmouche, an honors sophomore at McDonogh #35 College Preparatory High School and CTNO scholar, said,“Recently, I’ve enrolled in a class called [Project] Butterfly, and it’s basically a class full of girls where we just talk and basically get everything out [of] our chest about school,” said Carmouche. Giving students room to express their frustrations and teaching them how to deal with their mental health issues has become increasingly important during the pandemic. In their report, “Mental Health Framework: Coronavirus Pandemic in Post-Katrina New Orleans,” the Institution of Women and Ethnic Studies recommended that access to mental health services in community organizations and school based-programs should be increased during these times. IWES is a non-profit health organization in New Orleans.

Although they already provide individualized academic and social-emotional support, CTNO followed suit in increasing mental health resources for students as recommended. According to Jamal Simmons, a senior college advisor at CTNO, the organization has partnered with META, a teletherapy platform catered to students. “So, kids get to log on to an app and find their own personal counselor and find ways of dealing with their own wellness. That resource has been pretty dope,” said Simmons. 

In the college completion sector, high school students frequently attend college tours and obtain college application guidance and funding for applications and standardized tests. Once they are in their selected college, college completion advisors–such as Simmons–offer financial aid guidance, academic success planning and professional development.

Since its founding in 2008, College Track New Orleans has served over 400 students, 80 percent of whom are first-generation college students. Despite the pandemic, the organization persists with virtual programming, an increased emergency fund and personalized support and resources.