Every school aims to have engaged students who graduate with marketable skills to obtain employment. To increase engagement and completion rates, New Community Career & Technical Institute (NCCTI) formed a Retention Team in August to help students overcome any barriers that would prevent them from completing their programs. Team members also organize student events as a way to build school pride.
The Retention Team, under the direction of NCCTI Director Dr. Sylvia McCray, is currently made up of four members. The team meets each Thursday to discuss attendance and which students have been chronically absent. While students who are absent receive a phone call that day, Andrea Kelly and Odette Phillip, who serve as Student Success Coaches and are members of the Retention Team, dig deeper to find out what is causing the absences and if there is support that they can offer to overcome any obstacles.
When a student communicates a barrier, the Retention Team member refers them to the identified resource that is needed. Referrals can be to the Family Resource Success Center, which provides assistance with food, transportation and housing referrals; Family Service Bureau of Newark (FSB), which offers mental and behavioral health services; the Financial Opportunity Center (FOC), which helps clients improve their financial situations; or Career Services, which helps students obtain employment.
The Retention Team is not just involved with students who are having difficulty making it to class, however. Team members consistently reach out to all students to keep them on track, provide support should any issues arise and cheer them on when they are doing well. Contact is usually by phone and email.
“The Retention Team is a proactive solution-oriented process whose purpose is to involve all parties in the student educational cycle from Admissions to Career Services/planning; in providing an equitable, positive, problem-solving approach to assist students, families and teachers in developing effective solutions, identify instructional strategies, interventions and/or supports that may resolve or alleviate academic, behavioral, career planning and/or social-emotional needs,” McCray said. “The creation of the Retention Team leads to a continuum of educational programming and services for maximizing student success within the school environment while limiting or eliminating the barriers that prevent them from meeting the goal of completion. Over time, I believe this team will continue to see more positive results from their efforts.”
The team is also involved with campus student events. The first such event, the Student Appreciation Luncheon, was held on Oct. 27. Students from all programs gathered at the Main Campus, along with staff members and instructors, to enjoy lunch and each other’s company. It was also the first opportunity for some of the students to meet members of the Retention Team in person, particularly those in the Automotive Technician and Building Trades Specialist programs, which are held at the NCCTI Training Center.
The event also included the awarding of a certificate recognizing perfect attendance for the month of September. The hope is that seeing a peer getting recognized will motivate other students to come to class consistently.
Feedback from the event has been positive.
“Students spoke to me and they were really appreciative of it,” Phillip said. “They didn’t see it as just a sandwich.”
The Retention Team also arranged for students to get bags of candy on Halloween and is planning events around Thanksgiving and Christmas that will provide more opportunities for students to mingle with those in other programs.
Building that camaraderie among students in all areas of study will help to keep students engaged and hopefully coming to class.
“They have to feel when they come here, that they belong,” Phillip said. “This is not just a classroom to do this and get out. We have to make them want to come here. And that’s where we’re going.”
Holding students accountable for their punctuality and attendance is beneficial to their future as well. When they enter the workforce, employers will expect them to come to work on time each day and communicate promptly if an unexpected situation arises.
“I’m glad that we now have a Retention Team that works together to ensure that students attend classes each day and on time,” said NCCTI Registrar Ramona Galley, who is also a member of the Retention Team. “Most of our students are young and many of them are dealing with all kinds of problems (personal, housing, health, financial), and we point them to many different resources that can help them while in the program here. The team often has one-on-one meetings with students to discuss barriers and a plan for successful completion.”
Helping students on their journey to a successful career is rewarding for members of the Retention Team.
“When a student who wasn’t coming or was lapsing, that person is there now doing what they’re supposed to do. That satisfaction that I touched that student and it’s working,” Phillip said.
Kelly sends students inspirational quotes to help motivate them. While it might seem small, the messages have resulted in positive interactions.
“I know two people that did respond. One said thank you and the other actually needed help. And we got her the help that she needed,” Kelly said.
The efforts of the Retention Team are meant to help students succeed and reach their full potential.
“We always want what’s best for them,” Kelly said.
NCCTI is an accredited post-secondary career and technical institution that is currently enrolling for the following programs: Automotive Technician, Building Trades Specialist, Medical Assistant Clinical, Patient Care Technician and Culinary Arts Specialist. NCCTI also operates a comprehensive Financial Opportunity Center and Bridges to Career Opportunities Program sponsored by the local and national Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) offices. For more information, call 973-824-6484, log onto newcommunitytech.edu or visit 274 South Orange Ave., Newark.