College-Going Culture

Banners from different colleges and universities hanging from an AF school interior wallsBy the time he entered high school, Alexis could name the colleges he had already considered attending, the campuses he had visited and what he planned to study.
“Our teachers always talk about climbing the mountain to and through college,” said the Achievement First University Prep High School student. “They taught me that it would be possible for me to attend a prestigious university.”

For Alexis—an AF student since sixth grade—and his classmates, this “college-going culture” infuses every aspect of the school day and year. It’s an ethos that takes shape in the earliest days of kindergarten as students stream into banner-covered classrooms, shout cheers from their teachers’ alma maters and develop the earliest skills as effective, self-motivated learners—an attitude that finds full expression in the halls of AF’s high-performing high schools. When students begin the high school leg of their Achievement First journey, this college focus shifts from underlying ethos to unrelenting refrain. From the moment they walk through our doors, every student is given the tools and motivation to summit the climb to college. Here, in defiance of the deep injustice of our nation’s low expectations, the work of our high school team begins.

To help students understand the high-stakes nature of their secondary school years, Achievement First takes a multi-faceted approach to building its comprehensive college-going culture. Beyond the rhetoric of rigor and high expectations shared across teachers, leaders and staff, the pennants and posters lining our physical space stand as a steady reminder of the common goal behind the day-to-day hard work. Walking the hallways, Alexis and his classmates find the alma maters of great public figures, peruse the respective GPAs and SAT scores required for admission to various colleges and universities, stroll past a map that shows where AF alumni are attending college, and glance at individual teacher bios detailing where they went to school, how they got there and how their experiences shaped their futures.

“No matter where you turn, you’re constantly reminded that you will be going to college,” explained Achievement First Hartford High School student Teleyah. “There’s always something that shows you where you’re headed.”

Meanwhile, school calendars jam-packed with special events, trips and recognition ceremonies keep Teleyah and her classmates motivated and focused on the goal ahead. On trips to colleges throughout their four years, students not only take the usual admissions tour, but also visit dorms, eat meals in the dining hall and sit in on lectures—all to help them gain a clear picture of the excitement and independence of college life. As freshmen and sophomores, our students participate in large groups geared to increase college knowledge and build enthusiasm. By junior year, students visit colleges in smaller, differentiated groups based on their academic performance. For Teleyah, a series of visits throughout her high school experience helped her link her aspirations for a career in science and medicine to her prospective college list. “I have been to so many colleges including Yale, University of Connecticut, Brown and Colgate,” she said. “Those visits helped me understand which college programs would best fit my interests.”

As college acceptance letters roll in, school leaders share admissions news at the daily culture breakfast to the sounds of student snaps and shout outs. Through these individual successes, the community’s shared commitment to excellence deepens.

As a member of AF University Prep High’s first graduating class, Alexis looks forward to both leaving and coming back. “It feels good to be a leader and to know we’re going to be the first class from our school to go on to college. I know I can go to Stanford or UCLA and one day become a doctor. I am excited about where my hard work will take me.”