Union Settlement Prepares East Harlem Students for College

In February, it held a STEM career panel with AT&T; in May, with MTV, a Michelle Obama college signing event–attended by the first lady herself! “It” is Union Settlement, a fixture in East Harlem, New York, which has been empowering that neighborhood’s underserved community since 1895.

Key to Union Settlement’s work is providing educational resources and training that prepare young people to thrive in school and college. Originally founded to address injustices many new immigrants experienced, Union Settlement includes childcare and Head Start centers; vision, hearing, and dental screening; after-school and summer programs–in addition to adult education programs, programs for seniors, mental health services, and more.

I recently spoke with Jennica Saunders, a Union Settlement college prep counselor and graduate of Morgan State University, a historically black college.

“The Union Settlement College Readiness Program helps students pursue higher education,” Saunders said in an e-mail. “USCRP has assisted more than 20,000 students since 1964. More than 90% of participating students have been accepted to at least one institution of higher education: Cornell University, Macaulay Honors College at the City University of New York, Howard University, St. John’s University, Fordham University, University at Albany, SUNY New Paltz, and SUNY Fredonia are just a few.”

Saunders says the organization has provided such useful events as college tours, college essay writing with Columbia University, college fairs, college decision day (with HEAF), financial aid workshops, and more. Some students participating in the program have received full scholarships to college; one earned a study abroad trip to London; others have received paid high school internships at Harlem Hospital.

“We also offer leadership training and assistance the first year of college through our program called P.A.C.T.,” says Saunders. “It is no secret that our target population, first generation and low-income students, lack the network that most of their white counterparts have from their parents attending universities in years prior.

“Given that lack of support, our students are more likely to drop out of school their first year due to various factors: access to work-study, scholarships, book money, mentorship. The P.A.C.T. program serves as the network and mentorship link for these students, helping them acquire the aforementioned missing resources.”

The College Readiness Program has helped more than 20,000 young people with admission to college–most are the first in their family to attend an institution of higher learning.

For providing assistance with college applications to SAT and ACT prep, as well as opportunities for leadership and community service, Union Settlement is making a difference in the lives of first generation students from East Harlem.

Want more information? Go to its website.