With seniors in the midst of the college application process, the College and Career Center (CCC) at Berkeley High School (BHS) is often packed with students.
While the services at the CCC are for all grade levels, Mary Jacobs, the assistant in the CCC, said they are “mainly focused on seniors meeting college deadlines.”
Along with Jacobs, the CCC has two college counselors, Jennifer Hammond and Yasmin Navarro, and they work in partnership with the students’ academic and intervention counselors. The counselors are assigned to students based on their small school. The CCC also employs a college advisor, Julia Maciel, and a career advisor, James Dopman.
“All five of us are here to offer services for reviewing transcripts, deciding on eligibility for college, your interests in college, the college search, and then the actual execution of the college application,” Jacobs said.
At this time of year, the CCC also works with 24 volunteers to read essays for seniors.
“They will help you brainstorm, revise, and edit your final copies for the college essays. … They work individually with students for a half hour or longer,” said Jacobs. The readers are present in the CCC most afternoons and Monday mornings via Zoom, and students often return to the same essay reader several times to get comprehensive feedback at multiple points in their essay-writing process.
“I love the CCC,” said Claire Greene, an essay reader who has been a volunteer for ten years. “There are a lot of things I could do with my time, but I can’t tell you how much I look forward to this time of year. It’s really exhilarating work. Really hard word work.”
Natael Worku, a senior in Academic Choice (AC), said that he had the chance to get into Questbridge, a scholarship for low-income students, largely thanks to the support offered by the CCC essay readers. “I had to write tons of essays. … I came to the CCC every single day for two weeks, and I got into the program,” he said. “So I would say that the essay reading is one of the best things about the CCC.”
Every year, the Berkeley Schools Excellence Program (BSEP) votes to keep the CCC running. “We’ve applied every year to continue the services, and every year, they approve it,” said Jacobs. The CCC is also funded by the BHS Development Group, a parent-run non-profit that raises money for equipment, educational opportunities, and more.
According to Jacobs, the CCC works with the organization Destination College Advising Corps (DCAC) to better help seniors with applications. DCAC supports students with fewer opportunities by placing highly trained college graduates in spaces like the CCC to advise them. They work with a cohort of 150 students to provide college preparation support and advising.
Like many aspects of school, the pandemic was a challenge for the CCC. Jacobs said that there was a decrease in availability for students, as could be expected. Although the CCC was entirely virtual last year, counselors still helped students through the application process.
Despite the fact that school is back in session, the CCC uses a hybrid model in some instances. According to Jacobs, this is because Zoom opens up more opportunities for students, such as college visits. Now students can simply click on a link to hear a presentation and ask questions about a college they are interested in.
The pandemic also changed, and in many cases eliminated, the testing requirements for many colleges.
“We hope the college you choose has gone test-blind, because we believe that a holistic approach is a better assessment,” said Jacobs. “You are looking at the strength of someone’s schedule, the grades, the activities that they pursued outside of the classroom. All show more of a student’s potential than a test score.”
“It is not just college oriented here. Mr. Dopman supports students learning about careers and jobs,” said Navarro. Dopman runs resume workshops, as well as finding student work opportunities.
Students the Jacket spoke to said they were extremely grateful for the time and effort CCC counselors and staff put into helping students.
“Even during Thanksgiving break, Ms. Navarro was there on Zoom with me, helping me step by step,” said BHS senior Karan Bhakta. “They give you a lot of support, and they really wish for you to do the best.”