Celebrating the 2024 New York FAFSA Challenge Winners

Jun 4, 2024 | Blog

Announcing… our 2024 New York FAFSA Challenge winners! We are recognizing schools and their staff, representing each of New York’s OSC Economic Regions, for their innovation, determination, and ongoing support in helping students and their families complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) — especially during a year of a chaotic application cycle with the roll out of Better FAFSA.

What’s more: we’re celebrating students across the state for their extraordinary achievements in high school with a $750 scholarship to utilize for their postsecondary plans!

The New York FAFSA Challenge, which celebrates schools for the greatest year-to-year growth, is a subset of the New York FAFSA Completion project, a statewide campaign to encourage public high schools to increase the proportion of eligible students from low-income backgrounds who complete the FAFSA to qualify for federal and state college financial aid programs.

These best practices, listed below, can be adopted by schools statewide as New York State moves to adopt Universal FAFSA next year.

Learn more about what strategies schools implemented and the students who will receive scholarships:

Academy Charter High School, Hempstead, NY; Long Island Region

The team at Academy Charter High School begins to work with students during May of their junior year by meeting with families individually to review their aid eligibility and eligibility for opportunity programs. In students’ senior year, school counselors provide them with a tailored checklist that is monitored to ensure they complete their necessary ‘to do list’ items to matriculate into college. Throughout the winter and spring, school staff continue to support students with financial aid applications. When students receive their financial aid awards, school staff counselors help students and their families understand the financial obligation to attend specific colleges.

Ladania, the FAFSA Challenge scholarship recipient, will attend the New York Institute of Technology and major in information technology. She aspires to be a cyber security analyst, hoping to empower other disabled individuals to seek a career in technology. Ladania is the valedictorian of Academy Charter High School’s class of 2024. Ladania has honed her skills in information technology by participating in the Computer Programming Career Technical Engineering Pathway Program. Outside of school, Ladania works with EmpowHER disability network to advocate for the needs of the disabled community in educational spaces.

Delaware Academy Central School, Delhi, NY; Southern Tier Region

FAFSA completion and college readiness are engrained in the school culture at Delaware Academy Central School. Throughout the year, school staff host financial aid nights in partnership with local colleges and FAFSA completion nights where families could receive one-on-one support. School staff begin preparing students for the FAFSA and college application process during their junior year by hosting a senior preparation night.

Meredith, the FAFSA Challenge scholarship recipient, has a passion for animal care and will attend SUNY Delhi to become a veterinary technician. She works on her family farm, where she raises and shows cows. Meredith’s hands-on experience and leadership in Future Farmers of America have equipped her with the skills and knowledge necessary for a successful career in veterinary medicine.

Frederick Law Olmsted School, Buffalo, NY; Western New York Region

The team at Frederick Law Olmstead School partners with the University at Buffalo’s FAFSA Completion Project, which connects students and families with trained college access interns who support them in filling out financial aid applications. School staff also utilize the school’s academic and social media platforms and direct mail and e-mail to notify families about how to access support. School counselors further assist students and families during conferences and appointments.

The FAFSA Challenge scholarship recipient, who wishes to remain anonymous, plans to study engineering in college. She is heavily involved in extracurricular activities, including civics club, National Honor Society, track and field, and soccer. She also volunteers within the community and has participated in several social media and marketing internships thus far.

Liverpool High School – Liverpool, NY; Central New York Region

Liverpool High School staff assists students with completing their FAFSA by hosting classroom presentations on how to start the FAFSA process. Additionally, staff host financial aid nights for families, where counselors work with students and families one-on-one to address any questions they have. Throughout the year, school staff also diligently share local FAFSA help events with students and their families.

Emily, the FAFSA Challenge scholarship recipient, plans to study communications and join the cheerleading team at Syracuse University. Emily is a member of Liverpool High School’s initial communications arts group, where she spends a great deal of time working on projects for the group and helping her classmates. Emily is also captain of the varsity cheerleading team.

Promise Academy High School 1 – Manhattan, New York City Region

At Promise Academy High School 1, seniors can enroll in a college readiness course led by their 12th-grade college coordinator. This course guides students through monthly tasks, such as application deadlines, financial aid overviews, and resources for navigating the college landscape. In the fall, school staff host a college night for students and families, where they learn about the process and important dates. Following college night, students and families can attend a FAFSA night to help complete financial aid applications. The college coordinator also sets submission deadlines and weekly reminders for families to ensure timely completion.

Michael, the FAFSA Challenge scholarship recipient, aspires to attend New York Institute of Technology to pursue a degree in computer science, as he is passionate about new emerging technology, especially virtual reality. Throughout high school, Michael actively participated in multiple STEM initiatives, including the ID Tech summer program at Columbia University, where he acquired Python coding skills. He also participated in The Knowledge House Fellowship Program, where he received training in creating coding systems. Michael is currently enrolled in the New York State Education Department’s “Computer Science for All” initiative – Pathfinder Program as a student attendee at Code Minds Academy, where he is mastering basic coding skills.

Salem High School – Salem, NY; Capital District Region

Ongoing communication is a cornerstone of Salem High School’s FAFSA completion strategy. School counselors start the year by meeting individually with each senior and their parents or caregivers. To build on these meetings, counselors continue to meet with seniors throughout the year, as well as join classes to spread information and send out updates through various communication channels about the application process and outside resources such as local workshops or resources online.

Uta, the FAFSA Challenge scholarship recipient, plans to attend SUNY Purchase to study studio composition. He is passionate about performing arts and participated in Salem High School’s drama club, chorus, band, and jazz band. Uta is also involved in other student extracurriculars including the math team, film club, and National Honor Society. In his free time, he produces and composes his own music. Uta will receive the president’s award for academic achievement this year.

School of the Arts – Rochester, NY; Finger Lakes Region

The team at School of the Arts (SOTA) partners with the Rochester College Access Network (RCAN) to offer “FAFSA Fests” – a school-based workshop focused on FAFSA completion – for students and their families. Additionally, SOTA offers two college and career planning events each year for students and their families where representatives from local Rochester-area colleges present on financial aid options. Throughout the year, school counselors share FAFSA updates to students and families through several avenues, including a monthly newsletter on the school’s website, Google Classroom, individual meetings with all students, and classroom presentations.

Tekla, the FAFSA Challenge scholarship recipient, plans to attend Howard University to pursue a degree in environmental science. She is a member of the Eastman Community Pathways Program at the University of Rochester, which provides scholarships for Rochester City School District students to study music at the Eastman Community School in high school. Tekla is also an active member of SOTA’s jazz band.

Yonkers Middle High School – Yonkers, NY; Mid-Hudson Region

The team at Yonkers Middle High School makes every effort to assist students with their FAFSA completion. Staff begin reaching out to students in their junior year with multiple brief presentations about what financial aid is, and what to expect when they become a senior. During students’ senior year, school staff host an informational FAFSA night, where two financial aid officers from local colleges attend and speak — one in English and one in Spanish — with students and their families. Moreover, due to the Better FAFSA roll out this year, Yonkers Public Schools hosted multiple FAFSA completion days and nights.

Wilfrayni, the FAFSA Challenge scholarship recipient, is a first-generation college student who hopes to attend Penn State and major in the sciences to attend medical school. She has always been interested in medicine, as she grew up with family members that are physicians and aspires to become a pediatrician in the future.