With Freshman Success, NCS starts at the Why

This past July, the Network for College Success (NCS) gathered 100+ high school educators and leaders in-person for the National Freshman Success Institute at the University of Chicago.
Eliza Moeller, Continuous Improvement and Equity Coach at NCS, speaking with NFSI participants.
From July 19–21, 2022, over 100 high school teachers, counselors, data strategists, district leaders, and principals gathered from across the United States to kick off the 2022–23 National Freshman Success Institute (NFSI), a powerful seven-day professional learning experience. Taking place at the University of Chicago-Hyde Park campus, the first three days of the Institute gave space for practitioners to explore the conditions necessary to engage, manage, and lead Freshman Success work. In addition, school teams collaborated and began to draft action plans ahead of the upcoming school year, stemming from what they learned. For the NCS community, this marked an exciting return to in-person learning for the first time since 2019.
“The Institute is more than some tools and resources that you walk out with,” shared Krystal Payne, Co-Executive Director at NCS, at the kickoff of the Institute. “This is a movement that is about setting the conditions necessary for students to be heard, seen, and honored. That they feel like they not only belong but that they can and that they will.”
The sentiment shared by Payne appropriately set the scene for the next three days, as much of the Institute’s kickoff gave space for NFSI participants to set intentions for their time together and to build a deeper understanding of their respective “why” behind the work. Thus, the direction for the rest of the Institute was set in motion.
Each day, NCS Coaches facilitated content to build educators’ capacity to equitably lead Freshman Success work within their own contexts. The first day began with sharing the Chicago story of Freshman On-Track, informed by research from the UChicago Consortium on School Research. In hearing Chicago’s success story of improving high school graduation rates, NFSI participants gained a fundamental understanding of vital research-based levers: Freshman On-Track, course performance, and supporting the developmental needs of 9th-grade students, — all of which inform how educators can achieve improved student outcomes in their schools as well.
LaKisha Pittman, Continuous Improvement and Equity Coach at NCS, works with a school team.
During the Institute’s second day, attendees dove into the core elements of the NCS Freshman Success Framework as well as continued their discussion on the developmental needs educators must consider in order to create a culture of improvement that will support a high schooler from 9th grade to graduation. The discussion was informed by the UChicago Consortium on School Research’s Foundations for Young Adult Success report.
“I believe that young people deserve adults that see them,” shared Adelric McCain, Director of Equity and Impact at NCS. “Young people are entitled to having access to adults who are going to nurture their whole selves, beyond the academics.”
Participants met once more, for the final day of the 2022–23 cohort’s summer programming, during which the attendees spent time making meaning of the shared tools and discussions via practice-based break-out sessions, assessing their respective current needs regarding Freshman Success, and making plans to put into action at the start of the school year.
Over the school year, participants at NFSI will continue to build a collaborative community, sharing insights and challenges they experience. The 27 teams from 12 districts will reconvene in October, at which point they will discuss successes and improvements to date in equitably leading Freshman Success work to better serve high school families and communities. 2022–23 National Freshman Success Institute participants.
2022–23 National Freshman Success Institute participants.

Check out reflections from NFSI:

  • “A key takeaway for me was understanding how mindset, beginning with adults’ mindsets, is one of the main components for fostering a culture around shared accountability for the holistic success of our students.” — ‘22-’23 NFSI Cohort Participant
  • “There was an excellent balance between theory and application! The structure and delivery of the information were fantastic, as were the opportunities to process and interact with the research and Freshman Success Framework.” — ‘22-’23 NFSI Cohort Participant
  • “The pace and engagement of the activities were fantastic. Seeing and hearing from other schools all engaged in the same purpose and goal was inspiring.” — ‘22-’23 NFSI Cohort Participant
To learn more about the National Freshman Success Institute, visit the Network for College Success homepage. Follow @NCSChicago on social media to stay informed about upcoming programs, resources, tools, and organizational updates.