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It’s high school graduation day. Dressed in caps and gowns proudly displaying their school colors, seniors anxiously wait to hear their name called out over the loudspeaker and the subsequent cheers from the crowd. The keynote speaker commends the honorees on their 13 years of accomplishments, hopes, and dreams and congratulates them as they embark on “the next chapter in life.” The excitement in the air is palpable as students reflect on the obstacles they have overcome and anxiously await what the future holds. A short walk across the stage, a delivered diploma, and a handshake seal the deal. “Pomp and Circumstance” plays, tassels are turned, and the class filters out of the arena toward a long-awaited summer filled with beautiful weather, graduation parties, and summer jobs before pursuing their college dreams in the fall. Unfortunately, this was not what graduation looked like for the Class of 2020. All seniors do not realize this dream.

The class of 2020 dealt with disappointments, both big and small. Proms, sports seasons, drama productions, concerts, assemblies, and graduation parties were canceled. Traditional in-person commencement ceremonies became virtual, drive-through, and invite-only events. Career and college plans were altered, postponed, and sometimes abandoned. Dreams put on hold. Plans questioned. Uncertainty became the norm as graduates entered the summer months.

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the lives of graduating seniors in unprecedented ways, including exacerbating the phenomenon known as summer melt. Unfortunately, summer melt is not new to graduating seniors from our high schools. Each year nationwide, a percentage of high school seniors fail to complete the steps necessary for successful postsecondary enrollment in the fall. For many, the challenges are specific to their post-graduation plan, their family situation, or other naturally occurring barriers and challenges that arise during June, July, and August. As a result, enrollment requirements that need to be completed during the summer months to ensure a smooth and seamless transition to postsecondary education often go unfinished.

In response to these unprecedented challenges, St. Clair County RESA and the Blue Water College Access Network (BWCAN) established the Summer Success Program, with financial support from an MCAN COVID-19 Response Grant. The program’s mission was to support the class of 2020 and to address summer melt, especially among St. Clair County’s would-be first-generation college-going students, low-income students, and students of color. Due to the challenges of remote learning and the increased financial strain caused by the pandemic, these students were losing valuable in-person advisement opportunities and other crucial resources for strategic postsecondary planning. The Summer Success Program sought to address this gap by tapping into partnerships with St. Clair County Community College, the county’s seven school districts, and the county’s AmeriCorps college advisers.

Two veteran college advisers who had recently completed their second year of service through the Michigan State University College Advising Corps were hired as success coaches to pilot the 10-week program and deliver individualized support in the virtual space. The coaches worked with targeted student populations to increase student engagement and provide guidance during June, July, and August to ensure a smooth transition to their postsecondary pathways. These pathways included enrolling at a community college, trade school, or university with the ultimate goal of obtaining a professional credential, certificate, or academic degree.

The success coaches worked across various communication platforms to connect with students and their families and help them navigate the complex college-going process. BWCAN’s 12 Steps to Summer Success was a key resource in providing information on the enrollment process and requirements, with helpful advice for navigating orientation, registration, financial aid forms, and housing arrangements. Success coaches managed their caseloads to ensure each student they advised received the individualized support needed to complete college enrollment requirements at critical transition times during the summer. The students’ progress was measured and tracked with the program’s data collection system throughout the summer.

The success coaches collectively completed 86 consultations, which led to completing 250 enrollment steps and ensuring successful matriculation to postsecondary education. The combined efforts of key stakeholders and community partners were instrumental in the program’s development, implementation, and success. We’re thankful to our local school districts, the St. Clair County Community College financial aid and admissions staff, and our AmeriCorps college advisers for their support and collaboration.

The Summer Success Program is returning this June to support the transition efforts of the graduating class of 2021, and we’re piloting new additions to the program to broaden the its reach, including continued advisement and support for the class of 2020.


Nick Beaudry is the supervisor of career & college programs for St. Clair County RESA and Blue Water College Access Network.