A group of students discuss economics, business entrepreneurship, and future career plans while others gather together to cook a new recipe. It’s Saturday at Bank Street College and this tight knit community of students is a part of Liberty LEADS, a high school completion and college access program working with students across New York City to help them build the skills and knowledge needed for success both inside and outside of the classroom.
Students between 5th and 12th grade from traditionally underserved communities attend Liberty LEADS on Saturdays as well as several days a week after their regular school day and over the summer. Like all Bank Street programs, Liberty LEADS’ approach to teaching and learning supports the whole child and nurtures all areas of development, including cognitive, social, and emotional growth.
Co-founded by Fern Khan, Dean Emerita of Bank Street’s former Division of Continuing Education, the program was created to empower local students from underserved neighborhoods and help them realize the promise of their unique potential. Educators and advisors collaborate with students and their families to build ongoing, supportive relationships to meet their individual needs and support their learning and ability to succeed in high school and beyond.
Since 1989, the program has reached more than 1,700 students and has made a significant impact. As of 2004, an average of 96 percent of Liberty LEADS students have graduated high school on time and the program has maintained a 90 percent retention rate.
Today, Liberty LEADS serves over 200 students every year, mostly from communities in Harlem, Washington Heights, and the South Bronx.
Through diverse and engaging activities including classes covering a range of topics, retreats focused on community building and leadership development, and visits to college campuses, students gain access to opportunities that encourage them to become creative problem solvers, strong critical thinkers, confident leaders, and lifelong learners.
Osarumwense Pat-Osagie, Strategy & Operations Manager at Bank Street, completed the program in 2010, the year he graduated high school. He went on to graduate from Syracuse University and work at a top investment bank and financial services company. Today, he remains actively involved in Liberty LEADS as a Board Advisor and Saturday instructor.
“Liberty LEADS was one of the most influential programs I participated in during high school,” said Pat-Osagie. “The program opened my young mind to new possibilities and experiences. I learned that I have the ability to accomplish whatever I set my mind to like going to one of the top universities in New York. The bonds, friendships, and mentors I gained from Liberty LEADS still have an impact on my life today.”
The Liberty LEADS model centers on three core components: caring adult relationships, peer support, and family involvement.
To help foster trusted relationships with adults, Liberty LEADS students are paired with the same advisor each year and together with the student’s family, they meet to identify strengths and areas for support. The program also recognizes the crucial role of peer relationships and encourages students to share their challenges and successes with one another, which strengthens communication skills and creates a strong, lasting community within the program.
As students enter their junior year of high school, Liberty LEADS staff guide students in preparing for college and work with their families to support them through the entire process, which includes SAT prep, financial aid workshops, and admissions advisement.
“Many of our students are the first in their families to go to college so they do not have a road map. Liberty LEADS opens the door of opportunity for many students simply by consistently pointing them in the right direction,” said Ana Tiburcio, Director of Liberty LEADS at Bank Street. “One of the great things we do every year is a college tour where we take students to visit different schools. We help them pursue the schools that best meet their interests, needs, and long-term goals.”
90 percent of Liberty LEADS students have enrolled in college since 2004, which starkly exceeds the New York City Department of Education rate of 57 percent.
This year, Liberty LEADS is celebrating three decades of advancing equity in education. In April, Bank Street’s Annual Dinner will honor the program’s 30 years of service and celebrate its paramount success in impacting the lives of local New York City students.
For more information about the Liberty LEADS program at Bank Street, please visit bankstreet.edu/libertyleads.