Press Release

The Challenge recognizes high schools with the highest FAFSA completion rates and for improvements since last year

NEW YORK – The Education Trust–New York today recognized 12 public high schools across New York State for their work helping students complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a critical step toward enabling students to access the financial aid that can be a key factor in whether students who are low-income have the opportunity to attend college.

Winning high schools — where at least half of students must be low-income — each receive $750 to award a scholarship to a graduating high school senior who is planning to attend college in the fall and is low-income or a first-generation college student. The New York FAFSA Completion Challenge recognizes high schools for high FAFSA completion rates and for improvements in FAFSA completion rates since last year in multiple categories based on region of the state and school size.

The winning schools are:

In New York City

  • Top performers (for schools with less than 100 seniors): Pan American International High School at Monroe (Bronx/District 12)
  • Top performers (for schools with at least 100 seniors): Queens Technical High School (Queens/District 24)
  • Improvement (for schools with less than 100 seniors): High School of World Cultures (Bronx/District 12)
  • Improvement (for schools with at least 100 seniors): World View High School (Bronx/District 10)

In the Big 4 School Districts (Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Yonkers)

  • Top performers (for schools with less than 100 seniors): Leonardo da Vinci High School (Buffalo Public Schools)
  • Top performers (for schools with at least 100 seniors): Yonkers Montessori Academy (Yonkers Public Schools)
  • Improvement (for schools with less than 100 seniors): School 103 – Leadership Academy for Young Men (Rochester City School District)
  • Improvement (for schools with at least 100 seniors): Lincoln High School (Yonkers Public Schools)

In All Other School Districts

  • Top performers (for schools with less than 100 seniors): Forestville Central High School (Forestville CSD, Western NY)
  • Top performers (for schools with at least 100 seniors): Sleepy Hollow High School (Tarrytown UFSD, Mid-Hudson)
  • Improvement (for schools with less than 100 seniors): Charlotte Valley School (Charlotte Valley CSD, Southern Tier)
  • Improvement (for schools with at least 100 seniors): Norwich High School (Norwich City SD, Southern Tier)

While low-income high school students are more likely than their wealthier peers to attend schools with low rates of completing the FAFSA, the Challenge winners are models of success for the rest of the state.

“High schools have the power to make a dramatic difference in whether students and families have the support to complete the FAFSA and reach college, and the NY FAFSA Completion Challenge spotlights the hard work that many high schools are already doing to support students who are low-income and first-generation college hopefuls,” said Ian Rosenblum, Executive Director of The Education Trust–New York.

“The FAFSA Challenge is a great program to build awareness of the financial aid that is readily available,” said SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson. “Self-funding isn’t an option for most students and by taking the FAFSA, money for college can be secured. My congratulations to the FAFSA Challenge winners, including the seven who will attend SUNY this fall.”

“We are thrilled that four of the 12 winners of the 2019 NY FAFSA Completion Challenge plan to attend CUNY schools in the fall and will move one step closer to realizing their dreams,” said CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez. “At CUNY, we want to make sure that students don’t miss out on college for financial reasons and that they tap all available resources to get a high-quality, affordable education at one of our 25 schools. We know that students from low-income families are less likely to complete the FAFSA and may slip through the cracks and miss out on the chance to go to college. Thanks to the Heckscher Foundation for Children and the Education Trust–New York for their continued support in providing many of these students a bridge to college.”

A description of FAFSA completion strategies at winning schools and the scholarship recipient they selected follows:

In New York City

  • Pan American International High School at Monroe begins collecting the documents students will need to complete the FAFSA in April of their junior year. Staff members at the school then meet with students and parents throughout the summer to create their online account. The school also holds multiple financial aid workshops for students and parents throughout the year so they can know what to expect throughout the process. Parents are contacted both via robocolls and by staff members when their children do not bring their documents on time. The school also provides students and parents with a flyer that includes pictures of everything the school needs to help them complete the FAFSA. Cristina, who will receive the FAFSA Challenge scholarship, came to the United States at the age of 15 to meet her parents for the first time, leaving her grandparents behind in Ecuador. “This decision was difficult for me, but during these four years I found that in this country I have more opportunities to getting a better education for my future and more support for my family,” she said. Cristina has a passion for math, and wants to use those skills in a career as an accountant. “I want to fulfill the dreams that my parents cannot fulfill,” she said. Cristina plans to attend Borough of Manhattan Community College and study accounting.
  • Queens Technical High School follows the NYC DOE’s College Access for All annual calendar. They begin their push for FAFSA completion during financial aid month in November. Students and families can attend after-school FAFSA completion events and get help from the college counselor during weekly sessions at all lunch periods. The school also tracks students through a database program and through the state’s student financial aid agency, the Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC). Students are privately notified of any incomplete applications and FAFSA errors, and they can also receive assistance after-school through a partnership with Sunnyside Community Services. Queens Tech also provides students with resources and materials at all school events pertaining to post-secondary education. The school tries to prepare students before their senior year. As juniors, the college counselor provides basic knowledge of financial aid through college readiness classroom push-ins and smaller lunch groups. Nicole, who will receive the FAFSA Challenge scholarship, will be the first in her family to attend college and she will enroll in CUNY Hunter College in the Fall, bringing in nine college credits from her College Now classes.  Nicole has been a determined young lady and will begin her degree in biology. Her long-term goal is to attend veterinary school and advocate for animals that do not have a voice. She has been a valued member of the school community, participating in activities such as the senior yearbook committee and contributing to the student newspaper. As a cosmetology student, Nicole has also participated in community service events and is a candidate for the NYS licensing exam. Nicole proudly looks back on sophomore year and although it was a tough one where she experienced bullying, she decided to persevere and not let anything stop her as she worked hard to meet her dream of attending college. She was one of the first students to complete both the FAFSA and TAP application, again showing her commitment to her education and her future.
  • High School of World Cultures holds a financial aid night with parents to discuss the different types of financial aid students can access. The school also has a FAFSA night where students and parents can get help filling out the application. The school makes sure that each student checks in with the office to ensure the FAFSA is completed correctly. Ebrahim, who will receive the FAFSA Challenge scholarship, came to the United States from Yemen. “Imagine coming from a place where education is the last thing that comes to mind,” he said. “After I came to the United States, my life changed completely. I became determined to be something in the future and help improve both of my communities.” Ebrahim wants to become a doctor, a profession he believes will allow him to help people in need. “I hope that with my college experience I will be able to pursue my dreams of becoming a doctor and create a legacy for myself as well as inspire other Middle Eastern people,” he said. Ebrahim plans to study biology at City College.
  • World View High School starts its FAFSA Completion efforts by educating students about college costs and the options they have for paying for a higher education. The school also offers college and career readiness courses, where students learn about the various types of financial aid and grants. Staff set up students to apply for financial aid as soon as the application becomes available. Students receive detailed instructions for what to expect and are given the opportunity to ask questions prior to completing the application. The school’s college advising and counseling team invites both students and parents to attend financial aid workshops, where they can get assistance completing the application. Tamia, who will receive the FAFSA Challenge scholarship, is a high-performing student with ambitious goals. Her biggest goal is to become the first member of her family to graduate from college. She draws inspiration from her mother and her 3-year-old brother, who she works hard to be a role model for. Tamia has a passion for the arts and literature, and in her spare time enjoys going on picnics, to museums, and trying new things. She credits her success to her teachers at World View High School, and she hopes to inspire future students as a teacher for the New York City Department of Education. She plans to attend CUNY Hunter College.

“Through College Access for All, New York City schools in all five boroughs are giving students the tools and resources they need to apply for and attend college,” said Melanie Mac, Executive Director of College and Career Planning at the New York City Department of Education. “Congratulations to the winners of Ed Trust’s NY FAFSA Completion Challenge, and to all the students across the City who are applying for financial aid and going on to college to pursue their dreams.”

In the Big 4 School Districts (Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Yonkers)

  • School counselors at Leonardo da Vinci High School in Buffalo start the FAFSA completion process with a financial aid night in early November. Financial aid counselors from D’Youville College are on hand to assist students and parents with the process. Throughout the school year, a graduate student from the University at Buffalo was also available once a week — on “FAFSA Fridays” — to assist students at the school. Staff members kept a steady drumbeat with “gentle reminders,” such as morning announcements, classroom visits, phone calls to parents and guardians, and one-on-one appointments with guidance counselors. Shahed, who will receive the FAFSA Challenge scholarship, has a GPA of a 96.8 and is ranked 7th in his graduating class. He applied to and was accepted at more than five colleges all across New York State, and Shahed decided to attend the University at Buffalo, where he plans to major in physics. He hopes to then go on to medical school and become a primary physician. During his time at da Vinci he was on the soccer and environmental science teams and participated in the chess club. Shaheed lives with his parents and an older sister and is a first-generation college student.
  • At Yonkers Montessori Academy, teachers and administrators acknowledge how overwhelming the college admissions process can be for families. The school worked with teachers who were knowledgeable about the college process and set aside time in student schedules so that staff could assist them. Each student was given a timeline for when they needed to complete tasks, including the FAFSA application. The school also had a financial aid night to educate parents about the process. An area college volunteered to offer additional assistance to students filling out the form the school day. The school also notified students about workshops outside of the school. Melissa, who will receive the FAFSA Challenge scholarship, is a first-generation college student who has sought to excel in the natural sciences. When she learned her school did not offer Advanced Placement biology, she worked with administrators to arrange to take the course at another Yonkers high school, spending her lunch period traveling between the two schools. “As a first-generation college student, the FAFSA allows me to be close to obtaining my dream of a bachelor’s degree, without money being a factor to hold me back from attending,” she said. “We can achieve anything we want by working hard.” Melissa plans to attend Binghamton University. “This scholarship will certainly assist me with books and other essentials,” she said. “I am so grateful for the generosity given to me.”
  • Rochester’s Leadership Academy for Young Men encourages students to complete the FAFSA by advertising and promoting FAFSA workshops hosted by the Rochester College Access Network (RCAN). The school gets the word out to students and families using robocalls, Google Classroom, a Facebook page for seniors, and during assemblies. Leadership Academy also hosted its own FAFSA completion event in partnership with RCAN. In addition, the school received support from community partners including Pathways to Justice, the Hillside Work Scholarship Program, and Upward Bound. Onajae, who will receive the FAFSA Challenge scholarship, is a student who staff at Leadership Academy describe as an “outstanding senior.” He plans to attend Buffalo State College and study sports management. Onajae has played basketball all four years of high school, including playing on the Varsity team starting in 10th grade. He has also participated in the AAU basketball league for the past 3 years. In addition to his participation in sports, Onajae has taken several Advanced Placement courses and been recognized on the Honor Roll several times. He has also earned multiple excellent attendance awards and participates in Pathways to Justice through the Urban League of Rochester, the Hillside Work Scholarship Program, and JROTC.  Along with these activities, Onajae is interested in making music and enjoys playing video games.
  • Lincoln High School, along with other Yonkers schools, benefits from a systemic districtwide approach to helping students complete the FAFSA. The district works with Yonkers Partners in Education (YPIE), a foundation that aims to ensure students are ready for, enroll in, and complete college, to host events such as an annual college fair, where district and YPIE staff assist parents in completing the FAFSA. More than 60 colleges typically attend, also offering families an opportunity to learn more about programs and have their questions answered. The district also offers additional school-based opportunities where parents have access to computers and staff to assist them in filling out the FAFSA. Lincoln also partners with the College of Westchester to host a College Goal Sunday, where the college staff assists students and parents in completing the FAFSA.  Throughout the year, guest speakers meet with students to advise them on the importance of completing FAFSA. Esmeralda, who will receive the FAFSA Challenge scholarship, is a diligent Honor Roll student who is eager to learn new things. She is a quick learner with the ability to adapt to change, and finishes tasks in a timely and efficient manner. During her time in high school, she served as the treasurer of the Latino American Club and participated in other groups including the Ambassadors Committee, the Multicultural Club, the softball team and the Black Culture Club. She also completed an internship working at a dentist office. Esmerelda plans to attend SUNY Purchase.

“I want to congratulate the students, teachers, and staff at Leonardo da Vinci High School for being one of 12 schools statewide to be recognized for its high FAFSA completion rate and overall academic improvement,” said New York State Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes. “Thanks to The Education Trust–New York along with Say Yes to Education Buffalo, students will now have a better shot at receiving the financial assistance they need to pursue their dreams of a college education.”

“Students residing in impoverished communities, many who will also be first-generation college attenders, benefit when opportunity and access is created for them,” said Dr. Eric Jay Rosser, Associate Superintendent for Student Support Services in the Buffalo Public Schools. “The FAFSA Completion Project in Buffalo provides the opportunity and access students need in order to exercise their full potential in a post-secondary institution of their choice.”

“On behalf of Leonardo da Vinci High School, I am proud to accept this generous award,” said Greg Lodinsky, Principal at Buffalo’s Leonardo da Vinci High School. “College financing is a jigsaw puzzle that has many pieces in order to create the whole picture, and this award will provide yet another piece to the puzzle to allow a deserving student to achieve his dream of a high-quality, life-changing college experience. The FAFSA application levels the playing field for my students from lower-income backgrounds to afford the many colleges for which da Vinci graduates are accepted. Thank you for this generous grant.”

“For a school district like Buffalo where the majority of our residents live in poverty, we know that helping students successfully complete the FAFSA is critical if we want to increase postsecondary matriculation and completion rates,” said David Rust, Executive Director of Say Yes Buffalo, which helps coordinate FAFSA completion efforts in Buffalo’s public and charter schools in addition to providing postsecondary tuition scholarships for all eligible students.  “Kudos to da Vinci High School’s leadership and school counseling staff who prioritize support for their students and parents in meeting this crucial milestone as well as to community partners like D’Youville College and the University at Buffalo who bring additional resources to bear in these efforts.”

“Rochester Education Foundation and the Rochester College Access Network salute the seniors and staff at Leadership Academy for Young Men for their great work in the 2018-19 school year to increase their FAFSA completion rate!,” said Stuart Hencke, Executive Director of Rochester Education Foundation. “The school’s excellent work is part of a broader picture of success. Rochester Education Foundation has led a community-wide effort for the past five years to boost FAFSA completion rates in Rochester. The centerpiece is offering free, public FAFSA Fest events throughout Rochester to assist families and students in filling out and submitting their federal financial aid forms for college.”

“Access to college for underserved underrepresented students is only possible when young people and families take advantage of federal dollars to support their post-secondary studies,” noted Dr. Edwin M. Quezada, Superintendent of Yonkers Public Schools. “Our job is to make this information available, accessible, as well as relentless in our efforts to offer opportunities and direct help with the application. Many of our students will be the first in their families to attend college. We must encourage their perseverance and support them as they turn their dream of a college degree into reality.”

In All Other School Districts

  • Forestville Central School aims to assist all college-bound seniors with completing the FAFSA. The school partners with a local college to host a financial aid information night, where a financial aid representative visits the school and explains to parents how to fill out the FAFSA. If parents are having difficulty filling out the application on their own, the school offers one-on-one assistance to complete it. Haley, who will receive the FAFSA Challenge scholarship, has been involved in a variety of clubs and extracurricular activities throughout her time in high school. She participated in Junior Varsity and Varsity volleyball for three years and Varsity softball for two years. She has also been heavily involved in volunteer work inside and out of school, and was a leader of the art club. Haley was inducted into both the National Honor Society and the Spanish National Honor Society. Haley plans to attend the University at Buffalo, where she ultimately hopes to earn her PhD in retail pharmacy. She is graduating 3rd in her class.
  • Tarrytown’s Sleepy Hollow High School helps students complete the FAFSA with several events, including a Financial Aid Night for sophomores and juniors and a College Night for Spanish-speaking juniors and seniors. The school also has a partnership with Latino U College Access, which hosts a FAFSA Boot Camp for seniors where trained volunteers, many of whom are bilingual, assist students and families in completing and submitting the FAFSA. The organization helps support bilingual and culturally relevant outreach to target students and families in need of support. Sleepy Hollow also offers ongoing individual support to students throughout the year. Julissa, who will receive the FAFSA Challenge scholarship, started high school enrolled in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and is excelling in all of her Honors and Advanced Placement classes.  During the school year, Julissa tutored students in ESL classes and is part of the ESL Ambassadors, a group of students at Sleepy Hollow who welcome new students and help them with their schedules and adjusting to their new environment. She plans to attend Manhattanville College and major in psychology.
  • Each spring, Charlotte Valley Schools hosts a postsecondary planning night where they discuss the FAFSA and steps to complete it with juniors and their parents. They host a similar event in September of students’ senior year, and then in October host a FAFSA Night, where students and parents have the opportunity to complete the FAFSA online, something that is especially helpful for families who do not have Internet access. A financial aid counselor from a nearby university also attends to assist parents. Savannah, who will receive the FAFSA Challenge scholarship, remembers all of the hard work and dedication her parents put into making sure their children always had what they needed as they were growing up. This instilled in Savannah the drive to be a hard worker herself. Savannah recognizes that she wouldn’t be the person she is today without her parents, and hopes to one day be able to support and help them. Savannah will be attending SUNY Morrisville where she plans to study agricultural mechanics.
  • In order to help students and families with the college planning process, Norwich High School hosts an annual financial aid night at the beginning of senior year.  The school works collaboratively with SUNY Morrisville to facilitate the completion of the FAFSA by setting up appointments to meet one-on-one with students to ensure they complete it accurately.  School counselors push into the participation in government and economics classes to help students complete scholarship applications, write essays, draft resumes, and complete the FAFSA. Through a collective emphasis on teamwork and collaboration, the school is able to help students achieve success. Justin, who will receive the FAFSA Challenge scholarship, is a role model at Norwich High School. He holds himself to a high moral standard, and has been part of the football, indoor track, and baseball teams and also attended Boys State. Justin plans to attend basic training for the Army Reserves as a combat engineer. He plans to continue his education at SUNY Brockport, where he would like to study business or sports management. Upon completion of his degree, he intends to join the Army as a commissioned officer.

“We are proud to partner with Sleepy Hollow High School (SHHS) in our shared commitment to increasing FAFSA completion – especially among low-income, first generation to college students,” said Shirley Acevedo Buontempo, Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Latino U College Access. “Working together with SHHS and community volunteers, our FAFSA Boot Camp helps families successfully complete this important step in making their college dreams a reality. We are delighted with the results achieved through our partnership and the much deserved recognition for Sleepy Hollow High School.”

“We are so proud to have received this special recognition,” said Dr. Tracy Smith, Principal of Sleepy Hollow High School. “Special commendations to our dedicated guidance staff who work diligently to ensure that all of our students and parents have access to financial aid support. Through our various FAFSA programs, such as grade level financial aid evening sessions and FAFSA Boot camp for parents, our guidance counselors partner with our community to ensure that no student or family are left behind in this important first step in their college journeys. Again, thank you for this recognition and for the opportunity to provide a scholarship to a very deserving student.”

“Sleepy Hollow High School is very excited to have been recognized for our financial aid completion rates,” said David Ziegler, Counseling Department Chair at Sleepy Hollow High School. “The SHHS Counseling Department works hard to ensure that our school community has the help necessary to complete FAFSA applications.  We see this work as critical to the success of students beyond high school.”

The Challenge was part of The New York FAFSA Completion Project, a statewide campaign launched by Ed Trust–NY to encourage public high schools to increase the proportion of eligible low-income students who complete the FAFSA.

Explore data for each high school in the state, read more about FAFSA completion strategies being used at New York schools, and find additional resources at NYFAFSAChallenge.org. Complete Challenge rules can be found here.