Providing Academic and Financial Empowerment Online

Providing Academic and Financial Empowerment Online

We recently checked in with Tiana Bonner, IBA's College and Financial Empowerment Program (CaFE) Director to learn more about how her team has adapted to the pandemic to continue to provide academic and financial education services to the community.

Since March, the CaFE program has transitioned the High School Equivalency classes to an easy-to-use online platform. This has enabled all of those enrolled to continue to get the high level of support they need without missing the important core academic components of the program. The CaFE staff have consistently leveraged Google Classroom, Khan Academy, and Zoom to enhance student learning and provide 1-on-1 virtual tutoring as needed. In addition, with many testing sites being closed, or offering very limited availability, the team has had to pivot to find alternative locations or options for students to take the High School Equivalency Test.

With the pandemic drawing on, building a sense of community has been a challenge across all of the CaFE programs. However, Tiana and her team have found creative ways to bring students together, as often as possible, even for interactive online games and team building activities.

"We've implemented a host of biweekly Friday evening student social events through Zoom. Whether it be an online scattergories game or a fun at-home scavenger hunt, it's important for us to give our students the time they need to engage with one another. This helps them feel more connected to us and enables them to then be excited and engaged to focus on curriculum," Tiana explained.

To support students' social-emotional learning, during the pandemic, CaFE staff have conducted 2-on-1 check-ins with students to engage them in conversation around what they may be feeling and to identify where they may need additional support.

The other arm of the CaFE program – Financial Empowerment – has also been able to continue in a remote learning environment.

The Bunker Hill program focused on providing wraparound academic support, has transitioned to a fully remote model and will continue in this capacity through the summer. Academic Coordinators continue to virtually support students with financial aid, academic advising, and course registration as well as providing students with resources they may need for remote learning.

In addition, the Community College Credit Building Initiative, a partnership with United Way, Bunker Hill Community College, and Roxbury Community College (RCC) is still going strong. The program was launched at RCC in a virtual capacity and has been running smoothly, even despite the pandemic. Dedicated Credit Specialists consistently engage with students over the phone or via Zoom to help them reframe their budgets, prioritize financial commitments, and negotiate debt – all important components now as the pandemic has financially impacted many of those enrolled in the program.

Other initiatives that are currently ongoing include Rent Track, a new program that empowers residents to improve their credit scores by paying their rent on time. During the pandemic, Tiana has worked closely with Property Managers and Resident Services teams to promote Rent Track to help residents get a financial headstart on establishing or improving their financial positions, so they can come out better positioned to make more informed financial decisions.

As restrictions continue to ease in the coming months, the CaFE program is likely to permanently implement many virtual options to increase the community's access to academic and financial workshops. To learn more about the CaFE program and to see what workshops are planned through the Fall, click here.