Chester County Futures fights poverty through education

Chester county futures seeks to increase opportunities for students by preparing them for college

By P.J. D’Annunzio, Staff Writer,

EXTON—In this day and age it’s easy to take education for granted. But for some, a college education is a more elusive asset.

Otherwise bright students struggle in school or do not consider college as a possibility because of low economic status; having a family that is unfamiliar with the application process; or a host of other contemporary problems facing today’s underprivileged youth.

That’s where Chester County Futures steps in.

“Chester County Futures is a 15 year old poverty prevention college access program,” CCF Executive Director Catherine Mesaros said, “We’re working with students who come from homes where all the advantages that a middle class home has are missing and, therefore, face some additional struggles and challenges in an effort to get the kind of education that anybody needs nowadays to land that kind job that will enable them to live a life of self-sufficiency.”

The program is geared toward motivated, low-income students who wish to pursue a post-secondary education. These individuals are given access to mentoring, academic and financial assistance programs, and tutoring which begins in high school, though Students can be identified as early as elementary school as being potential candidates.

“Our students come into the program based on teacher and guidance counselor recommendation. They have to be income eligible. In other words we want to make sure they are from a home where the support is unlikely to be there…largely their homes are likely to be under greater financial pressure, students may have to carry an after school job or are pressured to get out of high school early to support the family,” Mesaros said.

Since 1996, CCF has assisted roughly 800 students, some of whom have gone on to medical school and even prestigious institutions such as Yale.

“We work with our students after school,” Operations Director Kathleen McLaughlin said, “We take them on corporate visits, we take them on college visits and basically we’re working with them through high school and even middle school to build a better and stronger foundation for them as they approach college. We work with them through the college application process, with financial aid forms; we have communication building sessions, and teamwork. Depending on their grade level they’re typically meeting every other week.”

These services are provided to students in the Oxford Area, Kennett Consolidated, Coatesville Area, Phoenixville Area, and West Chester Area school districts.

The program comes at no cost to the student, and students are required to apply for scholarships at the collegiate level in order to lessen the burden on tuition costs. CCF relies solely on donations in order to operate; they take no money from the participating districts.

The support doesn’t stop once the student gains admission into a post-secondary institution: grade monitoring is provided to CCF in order to make sure students are excelling in their new settings.

All in all the assistance CCF gives to students can span well over a decade, from middle school to college graduation.

“I would say that we have the single most comprehensive college access program that the nation might hope for to support the students who deserve that extra chance,” Mesaros said, “These students have every possibility to succeed.”

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