Chicago Scholars helps high school, college students navigate e-learning

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Many parents and students are anxious about the upcoming school year and the challenges that come with e-learning.

But a local organization says it will do everything in its power to make this year a smooth transition, especially for graduating seniors.

Chicago Scholars has been around since 1996, but they admit that this year will be very different from years past. They say their mission to get students into college is more important than ever, given the challenges of COVID-19.

Natalia Bautista was looking forward to reuniting with her friends and classmates this fall as she enters her senior year of high school at George Westinghouse College Prep. But last week, CPS officials announced that it would start the school year with remote learning for all students.

Bautista will be doing much of her college planning from home.

"I'm stressed out about deadlines," she said. "I think that's the most stressful part about it. Now that everything has gone virtual, I don't have my counselor there next to me."

But fortunately for Bautista, she won't be taking on this new challenge alone.

She was recently accepted into Chicago Scholars, a non profit organization that mentors and supports students from under-resourced communities.

"We help them with scholarships. We help with the financial aid process," said Dr. Tamara Hoff Pope, Managing Director of College Success. "Making sure their personal statements are together. So, we would typically have a pretty active office if it weren't for COVID-19."

Dr. Hoff Pope said the pandemic won't get in the way of their mission to provide their students with everything they'll need to succeed this year. For Dr. Hoff Pope, her work with the students is personal. She's a first generation college student and CPS alum. She said she knows firsthand how challenging college preparation can be for these students and refuses to see them fail.

"As first generation and low income students, they need people who are supporting them to make sure they stay on track with their educational trajectory and so we have been working around the clock since March to make sure we can continue our programming even though now it's virtual," she said.

Starting this fall, they'll be working with hundreds of students through video chats to make sure they're meeting college deadlines. The organization is also connecting students with college admissions counselors from schools across the country.

Through their emergency fund, they'll be helping students in need with laptops and other devices to help with e-learning.

Chicago Scholars is even getting parents involved in the process as well, so that they're up to speed on what their child needs to succeed.

"She's the first in the family going to college and this program I know is a lot of help for her," said Martin Bautista, her father.

It's a team effort that combines creativity and compassion to ensure none of their students get left behind.

"Whatever they need, they can reach out to us and we have their back," Dr. Hoff Pope said.

With the help of donations, Chicago Scholars has helped more than 4,000 students across the Chicago area. Since March, they've provided $60,000 in emergency funding to students who've been impacted by COVID-19.

For more information, visit https://chicagoscholars.org/.
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