P-Tech sees success in guiding seniors to seek federal student aid

Then-ConnCAN Executive Director Jen Alexander, left, and P-Tech (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) Director Karen Amaker discuss education issues in 2017. (Archive photo)

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk’s P-Tech Academy was honored Friday as a Commissioner’s Award winner for the 2021 Connecticut Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Challenge.

“The Commissioner’s Award is presented to the school that shows the highest FAFSA completion rate amongst similarly sized schools, relative to the previous year,” Norwalk Public Schools said in a news release. Gov. Ned Lamont announced the statewide FAFSA Challenge in December.

“Before each year of college, students are encouraged to apply for federal grants, work-study, and loans via the FAFSA form. FAFSA data determines federal aid eligibility, and many states and colleges using FAFSA data to award their own aid,” it explained.

P-Tech Principal Karen Amaker joined Lamont, Commissioner Russell-Tucker, Deputy Commissioner Nesmith, school administrators, counselors and higher education partners for a celebratory event Friday in West Haven, the news release explained.

The challenge aimed to “help high school seniors and their families access and complete FAFSA enrollment,” NPS states. P-Tech was one of 16 Connecticut schools “selected to join the FAFSA Learning Cohort and compete for prizes designed to help those districts in most need overcome the obstacles to completion while providing targeted support based on national best practices.”

NPS states:

“Working with the CT State Department of Education, P-TECH Norwalk partnered with local non-profit organizations to encourage and support families to complete FAFSA applications.  P-TECH collaborated with district partner Norwalk ACTS as a FAFSA Challenge co-applicant to develop an action plan and monitor weekly data throughout the challenge. Norwalk ACTS also helped secure funding from People’s United Bank to cover the costs for Norwalk Author Stacia Morris to sign and distribute her book Teen Money 101 to all graduating seniors to celebrate their accomplishment of completing the FAFSA.

“P-TECH had 77.9 percent of its class of 2021 complete the FAFSA, raising the bar for completion rate for high school students across Connecticut. As a reward for this accomplishment, P-TECH was granted $5,000 to be used toward innovative strategies for boosting FAFSA completion rates for the class of 2022.

“Over the course of the challenge P-TECH’s senior counselor participated in professional development courses on how best to support students through the process. Students were also incentivized with weekly Amazon gift card drawings using funds provided to FAFSA Challenge schools by the Connecticut State Department of Education.”


P-Tech is Connecticut’s first early college, established in 2014 under then-Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Manny Rivera.  Students completing the course graduate with a degree from Norwalk Community College, at no cost to them. It’s a partnership with NCC and IBM.

“We were honored to participate in the FAFSA Challenge with the goal of getting the word out to students and ensuring that they understood the benefits of the FAFSA application,” Amaker is quoted as saying. “The process can seem overwhelming, but taking the time to promote an understanding of how higher education entities use this report to determine student aid and scholarships helped us increase the amount of completed applications.”

P-Tech will follow up with an online step-by-step demonstration showing folks how to complete the FAFSA at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 28, and 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 12. The link to register is here and is said to be good for both dates. You can contact College and Career Specialist Ari Meadows at [email protected] with any questions.

“FAFSA completion is strongly associated with postsecondary enrollment and outcomes given that 90 percent of high school seniors who complete the FAFSA attend college directly from high school, compared to just 55 percent of FAFSA non-completers,” the news release said. “Yet, thousands of Connecticut students who are eligible for college aid fail to file the FAFSA each year and in doing so, leave millions of unclaimed dollars that could support their postsecondary education. A recent analysis by the financial media company NerdWallet found that approximately 12,000 Connecticut seniors in the graduating Class of 2018 failed to complete the form and slightly less than half of those FAFSA non-completers would have been eligible for Pell Grants totaling $17 million.”


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