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Launching to College

June 12, 2018


By Genoveva Cortes, Director, Bright Star Schools' Alumni Support and College Success Program

The majority of Bright Star’s students will be the first in their families to graduate from higher education. Because most are also growing up in low-income communities, statistically they face steeper odds to get to college and graduate with a degree. Nationwide, just 11% of students from families in the lowest income bracket receive their bachelor’s degree by age 24 (vs. 58% of students from families in the highest income bracket).1

Our students know their higher education paths won’t always be easy -- or happen in a straight line necessarily -- but they are determined to succeed and graduate.

They don’t have to navigate college alone; through our Alumni Support and College Success (ASCS) program, Bright Star provides up to six years of individualized support to ensure our high school graduates thrive in and graduate from higher education.

As a result of the ASCS program, our alumni are beating the odds: 85% of our class of 2015 are attending their third year of college2 and 93% of our class of 2016 are completing their second year of college.3

Frankly, this high persistence rate wasn’t always the case at Bright Star. I researched and developed the ASCS program when I realized that our students had high graduation rates from high school, but lower rates of persistence and success in college. ASCS launched in 2014, and in just five years, we’ve seen dramatic increases in our students’ higher education persistence rates.

It’s not enough to just get our students into higher education. We must also provide robust support to help our young adults thrive in and graduate from higher education -- and to navigate financial, academic, and socio-emotional obstacles that arise along the way, whether they’re attending a traditional four-year university, a community college, a vocational school, or a workforce development program.

Through the ASCS program, Bright Star addresses those obstacles head-on, by providing mentoring, career counseling, resources, advocacy, financial aid guidance, socio-emotional support, and more.

As our seniors get ready to graduate high school, we’re preparing them for the transition to college. Recently, we hosted our second annual “Launch to College,” a day-long workshop with speakers, breakout sessions, and networking opportunities to prepare our 200+ higher-education-bound seniors for higher education.


Launch to College

At the 2nd Annual Launch to College, we introduced our seniors to Bright Star’s institutional support, and we connected them with other alumni and peers so that they have multiple layers of people who are there to help them succeed in higher education.

We also provided them with numerous breakout sessions to prepare them for college, including:

  • Career Planning and Networking, led by a Disney executive;
  • Balancing Family Life and School, led by the ASCS team;
  • Attending College for Undocumented Students and Dreamers, led by a local attorney;
  • LGBTQ, led by Los Angeles LGBT Center staff;
  • Financial Aid sessions, targeted by university type (public, community college, etc.) and led by university financial aid staff;
  • College Life, targeted by university type (public, community college, etc.) and led by university staff and Alumni; and
  • Sex and informed consent, led by Bright Star staff.

Throughout the day, we reminded students that as hard as they’ve worked to receive their high school diploma, they’re not done yet -- and Bright Star isn’t done with them either. For the next six years, Bright Star will stay connected to them, and continue to connect them with people, resources, and support to ensure they succeed in college.

Ultimately, we want them to graduate and embark on a career that is satisfying emotionally and financially and helps pull them out of poverty.


As Bright Star alum Rony Castellanos shared in his keynote remarks during Launch to College, the path to college isn’t easy and requires a commitment to finish it. His own path to UC Santa Barbara was untraditional, and it took him longer to graduate because he had to spend time working to support himself, was homeless for a short time, and is an undocumented queer student.

But college provides you with the space to explore opportunities that you don’t get if you don’t go, he said, and it’s worth it. He exuded the pride he felt in himself for persisting and graduating. He heads to graduate school at UCLA this fall.

Genoveva Cortes has over two decades of experience working as an elementary and middle school teacher, K-12 and college administrator, and program coordinator. She was Bright Star Schools’ founding math teacher for Stella Middle Charter Academy in 2003, and currently serves as the Director of the Alumni Support and College Success (ASCS) Program for the organization. Geno developed and launched Bright Star’s ASCS Program to support the organization’s alumni to persist and graduate from higher education. ASCS tracks, supports, and coaches Bright Star Schools' alumni to get to and through higher education, with a goal of 70% of Bright Star alumni graduating with a bachelor's or associate's degree, vocational certificate, or from a workplace development program within six years of high school graduation.

1. “Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the United States: 2018 Historical Trend Report.” http://pellinstitute.org/downloads/publications-Indicators_of_Higher_Education_Equity_in_the_US_2018_Historical_Trend_Report.pdf
2. Bright Star internal data as of fall 2017.
3. Bright Star internal data as of spring 2018.