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College Access: How SYS Supports Aspiring Students

Updated: Feb 7, 2023

August 24, 2022 - SYS Education Specialist Mary O’Reilly spends time each week meeting with 6-7 young people, offering her expertise and encouragement as they make plans to take community college classes. She’s embedded in our Justice Services team and her work allows justice-impacted young people to think about how they will re-engage with education and work towards future goals. For this fall, five young people have signed up for their first classes at City College of San Francisco (CCSF). Four are taking classes to complete their AA degrees so they can transfer to 4-year colleges and pursue real estate, dentistry, nursing, and interior design. Another youth is taking classes for a certificate program in sound recording arts.

Mary offers assistance with college applications, admissions, financial aid, registration, navigating the school portal, and class scheduling. She also takes students on college visits, to get familiar with the campus before classes begin. This week, she will be following up with new students to see how their first week of classes are going.

“It’s the youth who do all the work. It’s their drive and persistence. I offer moral support, and they develop the connections with counselors and teachers.”

She’s also been working with 3 additional students who are working out the details of their financial aid packages and how to pay for school. “I’ve been helping kids with their FAFSA, researching scholarships, and going over their financial award letters. I also act as a reference for some.”

Mary would like to help more youth work towards their GED, in part by building relationships with Five Keys charter schools. As she thinks about the future, she also hopes to invite admissions counselors from CCSF to speak to more SYS young people in October. “It’s a better way to branch out and cast a wider net, exposing kids to their options and building relationships with CCSF staff.”

“One of the reasons why this work is so gratifying is that some of our youth are first-generation college students. I was one too and it brings me back to my own experience––the nervousness and excitement. We walk through the steps together and they do the rest!”

We’re delighted to celebrate Mary’s one-year work anniversary next week and grateful for the skills and heart she brings to our youth community! Thanks, Mary!


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