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K-12 Partnerships

The Gifts of Gateway Graduation Season

| Stephanie Davolos

Stories & Case Studies
June 22, 2023

In the past month, as director of Gateway to College Network services, I’ve traveled from Massachusetts to New Jersey to attend several high school graduations on community college campuses. Yes, that’s right, high school graduations. 

More and more community colleges in the ATD Network are supporting local high school students to cross the finish line and earn college credit at the same time. For many students, especially those in the Gateway to College network, these opportunities represent a tremendous gift — the gift of a second chance at a high school diploma and a path to college and a career. As the former executive director of a 7–12 school and a longtime educator, nothing inspires me more than watching students cross the graduation stage to the joyous sound of their families’ cheers.  

My graduation tour kicked off at Mount Wachusett Community College. Known locally as “the Mount,” Mount Wachusett Community College is in Gardner, Massachusetts, and serves students from over 40 towns and cities across north central Massachusetts. This graduation was a three-hour affair and my first in-person graduation since the start of the pandemic in 2020. I loved every single minute. Fifty-seven graduates walked across the stage, 16 different speakers addressed the packed auditorium, graduates performed three musical interludes, and two longtime faculty members handed both high school diplomas and college associate degrees to their daughters.  

The Mount delivered a beautiful celebration of the college’s two signature full-time dual enrollment programs: Gateway to College and Pathways. Since 2007, these two programs have led the way for Massachusetts’ burgeoning early college high school initiative and continue to serve students for whom the traditional high school is not the right fit — students like Gateway student Nadya Aldrich, who started at the Mount at the tail end of the pandemic with 2.0 high school GPA and in just 24 months earned a high school diploma and an associate degree. During her speech she thanked her dad for helping her to find a car to get to and from college and the staff who coached and supported her to persist when obstacles got in her way.  

The college’s dual enrollment programs also serve students like John, who struggled to connect with classmates in his high school and felt isolated and alone. After the pandemic, his family worried that he might not ever make it out of the house. Then he found the incredible team at the Mount and a cohort of students with similar experiences navigating large regional high schools across central Massachusetts. At graduation he stood on the stage, addressed his classmates, and received an associate degree with the highest honors from the college. 

My graduation travels also took me to New Jersey’s Camden County College and the Gateway to College program there, which launched 12 years ago in 2011 in partnership with the Camden and Pensauken Public Schools. Sixty-five students graduated on June 14 in front of many college community leaders, family, and friends, including Camden County College’s sixth president, Dr. Lovell Pugh-Bassett, who is completing her first year as the college’s first president of color in its 56-year history. Dr. Pugh-Bassett and Camden Public Schools Superintendent Katrina McCombs,both addressed the class and spoke to the power of dreams and the commitment both of their institutions have to student success.  

These two graduations and the students they celebrated and serve are exemplars of the power of partnerships — partnerships that break down the barriers that are all too often placed in front of students. Let’s face it, being a student in high school today is not easy. For many, securing a high school diploma is made even harder by the challenges brought on by the pandemic and persistent income and racial inequality in our country. All too often Gateway students must work and care for younger siblings or ailing family members while attending school. In fact, students today are often living adult lives in their teens and face responsibilities that would challenge many adults. 

Both Gateway programs at Camden County College and Mount Wachusett Community College are leaders in the network of Gateway to College programs and have received consecutive Program Excellence and graduation success awards from Achieving the Dream. Gateway students in these two very different places have had the gift of a community with a shared vision for student success. The Gateway graduates I watched walk across the stage to cheering families also received the gift of robust support, from teams of dedicated support staff and partners both in the college and in the broader community. Gateway graduates across the country received the gift of community leaders willing to think creatively about time and money and the gift of committed educators willing to respond to student experiences, cultures, and to the knowledge students bring into each classroom. 

But, most importantly, Gateway graduates bring their own gift, the gift of resilience, when they make the choice to re-commit to their education and take the positive risk to enroll in a Gateway program. Resilience, the ability to face obstacles in your path and to work around them to achieve your dream, is a fundamental piece of each and every one of the graduates I watched cross the stage. They made it. They received high school diplomas and, even more notably, graduated as college students with the skills, habits, and beliefs they’ll need to continue towards the futures they’ve envisioned while on campus. I cannot wait to see where their strength, courage, and resilience will take them and their communities. 


Founded in 2000, Gateway to College facilitates sustainable, revenue-sharing partnerships between local colleges and school districts, providing a second chance for students who have been disconnected from education, fallen significantly behind, or who otherwise would not likely be collegebound. Through the program these students attend classes, free of charge, at a local community college to earn their high school diploma while simultaneously earning college credits. They develop college readiness skills through intense personalized support, and the college setting in which they receive this support creates a sense of belonging critical to their belief in themselves as college students. To learn more about how you could bring a Gateway to College program online on your campus please visit: 

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