March 2022 Newsletter: Welcome to march madness

Welcome to March Madness! While I am talking about college, I’m not referring to basketball. I’m talking about the madness of college acceptance season! It’s a critical time for students and families to make choices about that next step along a student’s education continuum. While Washington students have choices, I remain concerned that those choices and pathways are not clear to a large number of our students.

While I wasn’t a first-generation college student, my father only stayed one step ahead of me completing a degree at the kitchen table via correspondence courses. When it became my turn, we weren’t quite sure how to fill out the financial aid form. My parents highlighted several sections they didn’t understand, and I had to figure out how to find the answers. I graduated from high school in the “Breakfast Club” era and yet our students and families still face the same issues today.

We are fortunate to be home to a Legislature that endorses robust financial aid supports, but Washington state ranks 49th in the nation on FAFSA completion, the form that determines a student’s financial aid from the government and most colleges. As we continue to help students mitigate the impacts of COVID on their education, supports to connect K-12 and postsecondary opportunities are critical.

Please continue reading to learn more about the organizations working diligently to create clear postsecondary pathways for Washington students. And be sure to keep scrolling for a special Q&A tied to another March milestone, Women’s History Month.

In Partnership,

Angela Jones

Partner Spotlight

Providing Pathways to Postsecondary Education

partner spotlight

There is such a rich and diverse range of job opportunities available for young people across Washington state today. To give themselves the best chance at these jobs, the vast majority of high school students – nearly 90% across the state – say they want to pursue a postsecondary program. There are a lot of real and perceived barriers to college, however, with cost being one of their most significant concerns. Get to know some of the organizations working to make that transition affordable and successful for Washington’s high school students.

  • Washington state has a nation-leading financial aid initiative called the Washington College Grant, but too many students can’t access this financial aid because of barriers like financial aid application challenges. Read how the College Promise Coalition is working to expand access to financial aid for all students in the state.

  • A new Partnership for Learning report highlights a partnership between Wenatchee Valley College and Bridgeport High School (BHS) that saw 80% of BHS juniors and seniors completed dual credit compared to the statewide completion rate of 61% – ensuring they graduated high school with college credits at no cost. This gives students a great start to reach their postsecondary goals. Explore the six elements that made the partnership flourish.

  • The availability of dual enrollment opportunities can be inequitable across the state. That’s why Washington STEM, Eisenhower High School and OSPI created the equitable dual credit toolkitExplore the driving questions behind disparities in dual credit participation.

  • The best way to develop programs that meet students’ needs? Get first-hand recommendations from students themselves. That’s exactly what Washington Student Engagement Networks provides to our state. As the student arm of the College Promise Coalition, WA-SEN mobilizes the student voice around issues of college attainment and equity. Every year during Washington’s legislative session, WA-SEN students host conversations with legislators – advocating for programs they believe will make their college experience more successful.

  • Washington state also has a High School and Beyond Plan process, which is a graduation requirement that supports students in exploring their interests and creating a personalized plan for their future. The process can be burdensome for students from refugee and immigrant backgrounds, however, due to a number of factors. Learn how the International Rescue Committee partnered with Puget Sound school districts to make this process work better for these students.

Community Engagement

community engagement

During Women’s History Month, our colleagues on the Community Engagement team are spotlighting their grantee, the Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWA). The organization, while locally based, is a nationally recognized nonprofit that provides holistic services to help refugee and immigrant women and families thrive. The Gates Foundation previously partnered with ReWA to create this video about their early learning program, and we currently support their efforts to create a welcoming environment for Afghan refugees arriving in Washington state.

For International Women’s Day this year, ReWA shared inspiring stories from some of the women in our community. Give these profiles a read on the ReWA website.

We also caught up with Executive Director Mahnaz K. Eshetu to learn more about the future they’re building for refugee and immigrant women.

You have led ReWA since 2013. What drew you to the organization?

I am an immigrant from Iran, and yet I did not have full appreciation of refugees’ struggles in the U.S. until I served on the Board of Directors of ReWA. I learned that barriers for refugees who flee their countries because of war and fear of execution to build a new life in the U.S. are much greater than those that immigrants are facing.

I was amazed by the resiliency and determination of refugees to start from scratch and establish a foundation of a new life for their families. Our mission and the fact that ReWA was established by a refugee woman drew me to the organization. It is a privilege to be part of an organization that helps dreams of America become a sweet reality for refugees and immigrants.

What are some of ReWA’s top priorities for the year?

Between November of 2021 and March of 2022, Washington state received over 2,500 refugees from Afghanistan. In 2022, we expect about 3,500 more refugees, and all but 240 are from Afghanistan. We have been busy not only providing our array of services, but also helping overwhelmed resettlement agencies resettle some of the newcomers. Housing and employment are major barriers refugees are facing. Our priorities this year would be to expand our housing and employment program by adding additional Afghan-speaking team members to serve Afghan refugees, while also preparing ourselves for the refugees from Ukraine.

Reflecting on Women’s History Month, what kind of history are you hoping to build for refugee and immigrant women?

We live in the greatest country on the earth. The truth is America would not have been possible without immigrants. Immigrants not only helped build what Ronald Reagan called a “shining city upon a hill,” they helped and continue to help sustain it. Refugee women are strong, resilient, and determined to make sure their families live a better life by building stronger communities.

They have been and they will be making a difference in American society by starting new businesses, engaging in science and technology, and working in law professions and social services. They teach their children to preserve and persevere. Refugee and immigrant women make history at many levels in American society.

What We’re Reading and Watching

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Washington state education leaders celebrate Women’s History Month

March is Women’s History Month, and there are so many women in Washington state who have played a significant role in our state’s history or are working hard to write a new history for communities across Washington.