by Devin Kirby, AmeriCorps member serving on the National Grid team with The English High School
This piece is the first in a series of interviews with AmeriCorps members in other programs that partner with Boston Public Schools.
“...I actually got my parents audited,” Lindsay Nicastro admits sheepishly. “I put a 0 in the wrong place.” This was Nicastro’s first experience with the FAFSA, a federal student aid application that has become an inextricable part of the college application process. Nicastro, now 22, serves at the English High School in Jamaica Plain with the College Advising Corps, an AmeriCorps program that places near-peer advisors in schools to help underrepresented students apply to college and not “make the same mistakes” that previous applicants, like herself, might have made.
Growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Nicastro says she did not have an “experienced” guidance office in high school; her advisors, many of whom having spent most of their lives in and around Pittsburgh, literally laughed at Nicastro’s dream of going to Boston University. Left to her devices, Nicastro stumbled through the tricky process of applying for higher education, resulting in a variety of miscues such as her FAFSA fiasco.
Eventually making it to BU as a political science major, Nicastro took a keen interest in community organizing, becoming the president of her College Democrats chapter and worked on campaigns for Massachusetts Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren and eventually for President Barack Obama. She also gained invaluable experience with the college admissions process as the Program Manager of One-Time Events for BU, which encompassed recruiting prospective students, leading tours, and organizing large-scale events such as a Global Day of Service that involved 500 students working with over 30 non-profit organizations. Last summer, after graduating, Nicastro worked at Emerge Mass., a leadership organization for Democratic women. In April, she wowed a recruiter from the College Advising Corps at a job fair that would later turn out to be her current supervisor. And so Lindsay Nicastro from Pittsburgh became Ms. Nicastro of the English.
The College Advising Corps’ philosophy is centered around five pillars of college application: campus visits and tours of schools, meeting school representatives, finding scholarships, discovering schools or interfacing with potential colleges at fairs, and finally conducting workshops to help students navigate steps like the FAFSA and SAT. Nicastro herself serves as a valued resource, especially with SAT prep and the more abstract process of figuring out what schools appeal to what students based on personality and professional quizzes. According to Nicastro, it is shown that students who take the SAT, apply to 3 or more colleges, and meet representatives from those colleges are more likely to go to college, which Nicastro stresses to students as a vital part of their future personal - and, equally importantly, financial - success. On top of running around the 5-floor English school building between classes, lunches, and her office, Nicastro also finds time to lead a 9th-grade class where she begins making students think about college and outlining what steps they need to take, even in their freshman year, to ensure they are the best future applicant they can be. She is in school every day, usually until after school ends, and her impact is already felt with the senior class; even during our brief interview, she was visited by several students with questions about their upcoming SATs. Coupled with the vibrant vocational Pathways program that offers professional certifications in 4 different fields, the work of the College Advising Corps through Ms. Nicastro at the English helps equip students for whatever lies ahead after high school. Like high-school Nicastro, many students struggle with the college application process due to sheer confusion, especially those who are the first of their family to attend college or immigrant families unfamiliar with the process altogether.
The College Advising Corps - the “most diverse program in AmeriCorps,” according to an enthusiastic Nicastro - continues to expand, with Nicastro telling me that they have upgraded from being in about 15 schools last year to 23 this year, and plan to spread out even more to 32 next year. Seeing the powerful impact of one sole member, I am excited and relieved to know that students are being encouraged to and assited in applying to college, where, as Ms. Nicastro knows, one misplaced zero can make all the difference. As for herself, Lindsay plans to apply to the Peace Corps or pursue a Masters of Education Policy at BU with a concentration in community outreach. Paperwork aside, she seems comfortable enough in that role already.