Make the Road New Jersey and Elizabeth Public Schools Launch Youth-Led Student Success Center

Make the Road New Jersey and Elizabeth Public Schools Launch Youth-Led Student Success Center

Since the Center Opened in September 2019, 10 high school college ambassadors at EPS have provided training to More than a Thousand High School Students to Learn About College Application Process and Helped 350 Apply for Financial Aid


Elizabeth, NJ — On Thursday, December 19, the Elizabeth Public Schools (EPS) and Make the Road New Jersey held a launch celebration for New Jersey’s first-ever youth led Student Success Center, a drop-in center at Halsey Academy, one of the seven Elizabeth high schools where trained high school students student support their peers navigate the college and financial aid application process. Elizabeth Board President Stephanie Goncalves Pestana, Elizabeth Superintendent Olga Hugelmeyer, representatives from NJ DOE Commissioner Repollet’s office, Senator Joe Cryan, Union County Superintendent, representatives from HESSA, and board members and other electeds officials joined students, parents and educators to celebrate the launch.

As one of the 10 College Ambassadors at the Elizabeth Student Success Center, Karen Simbaina, senior at Halsey Academy, reflected, “I’ve coordinated monthly financial aid workshops for the EPS district and helped dozens of students apply to college and for financial aid. I’m bilingual, so I can connect with immigrant parents and students. When I speak Spanish, native Spanish speaking parents feel like they are a part of the process, too. I have been able to encourage student who thought college was not possible for them to apply. This experience has truly changed my life.”

“The Student Success Center, which trains high school students in the college and financial aid application process, will build a strong Union County and New Jersey for tomorrow,” said Senator Joseph Cryan, who attended the event and shared remarks. “Congratulations to Make the Road New Jersey and the Elizabeth Public Schools on their partnership and achievements thus far.”

“Elizabeth Public Schools is very pleased to partner with Make the Road New Jersey to open the first Student Success Center in New Jersey at Admiral William F. Halsey Health and Public Safety Academy, which will offer the students of all our high school academies the opportunity to further explore and promote college and career opportunities,” said Elizabeth Public Schools Superintendent Olga Hugelmeyer. “We are confident the Student Success Center will prove to be a fruitful endeavor for our district as it will host student activities and events that greatly align with our goals of college preparation and career readiness for every child.”


“On behalf of the Halsey Academy school community, I’d like to extend our congratulations to the Elizabeth Public Schools and the Make the Road team on the launch of our new Student Success Center! We are excited and honored to house the SSC at Halsey, and we look forward to the many wonderful and new opportunities it will bring to our students and the students of Elizabeth,” said Halsey Academy Principal Christopher Van Vliet.


A 2018 survey administered by MRNJ youth leaders found that while more than 85% of EPS students wanted to go to college, over 60% reported inadequate information about college. MRNJ sought to close this gap and, using as a starting point a model observed in Philadelphia, MRNJ designed the SSC to utilize the expertise of community based organizations and the power of youth leadership.


New Jersey’s first-ever SSC is located at Halsey Academy (one of the seven EPS high schools). The SSC is open to all Halsey Academy students during the school day and open to all EPS students after school. And the SSC model of putting youth at the center of the college process has generated powerful results. Since the SSC opened in September 2019: 

  • 100% of Halsey Academy seniors have received college and financial aid access training from trained College Ambassadors at the SSC;
  • 85% of Halsey Academy seniors have applied to college; and
  • More than 350 EPS high school students from throughout the district have applied for financial aid with the SSC.

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Make the Road New Jersey builds the power of immigrant and working class communities to achieve dignity and respect through community organizing, legal and support services, policy innovation and transformative education.



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