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Students Will Be Celebrated, And Compete For 'Best Talk,' At Annual West Palm Beach Education Fest

 Path to College fellowship group poses in a group photo.
Courtesy of Path to College
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Path to College's Speed Interview Night in January 2020

A college-readiness fellowship in Palm Beach County continues to help low-income, high-achieving students gain access to top-tier colleges and universities. The program’s fourth annual Education Fest is the group's way to celebrate their student’s tenacity amid the pandemic.

The signature part of the event, the competitive Best Ed-Talk speech contest, features TED Talk-style presentations by students who place a spotlight on issues that affect society.

“They’ve given presentations on outside play time versus screen time. They’ve given presentations on the rise of domestic violence during the pandemic ," said Christine Sylvain, the founder and executive director of Path to College. “Our winner last year talked about the prison system and the punishment system and the way that it’s racially, often, motivated and unfair.”

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The students faced personal challenges themselves, many of whom lost jobs during the pandemic or couldn’t afford Wi-Fi for school assignments.

“I know one student that I worked with was taking care of three younger nieces and nephews while he was going to school during the day,” Sylvain said. “So those are the challenges students that we work with had to face.”

Path to College has been around since 2017. Sylvain says 85% of Path to College graduates have been accepted into top-tier schools. She says expanding one’s network, and the importance of “culture and connection,” is just as important as enrollment into higher education.

Mentors at Path to College, a cadre of mid-career professionals who tutor and volunteer their time for their underserved students, play a huge part of the program’s mission toward education equity.

“Helping them [students] think about timelines, goals,” Sylvain said. “Helping them soundboard career aspirations. Helping them think through their personal statements, which college they go to.”

Sylvain is a former alternative prep teacher who spent years prepping students for the SAT and advising students from various socioeconomic backgrounds. Her work often focused on “undermatched” kids who have, as Sylvain describes it, “equal talent, equal drive, equal ambition, but obviously not equal opportunity.”

“There's a phenomenon, it's called undermatching. They are students from low income communities. They have incredible scores, incredible GPAs, but they just don't apply to selective colleges,” Sylvain said.

Christine Sylvain photo.jpeg
Christine Sylvain
Christine Sylvain is the Founder and Executive Director of Path to College

She said despite being qualified, high-performing, undermatched students are reluctant to apply to competitive schools due to lack of access to proper information, financial support, and confidence getting through the admissions process.

According to a 2018 study by American Educational Research Association, undermatching was highest for Black students at 49% and those students were less likely to complete their degree in four years.

Sylvain says Path to College’s mission is to level those students up and “turn them into top-tier candidates that those amazing schools want at their schools and to help them through the process.”

Notre Dame. Cornell. The University of Southern California. Florida State. These are just a few of the schools that Path to College graduates have been accepted to or enrolled in. Sylvain says academic excellence is just one component to overall success.

“Today's employers, they're savvy. They want people who come with skills, with degrees, and then also those critical thinking skills and soft skills,” she said.

“So I think it's very important for students to learn all that they can in and outside of the classroom, as well as lean on their networks and develop a network as much as possible that can bring you outside of the village that you were born into and expand your village, too.”

The in-person and online Education Fest is taking place May 26 at the Armory Art Center in West Palm Beach.