On Saturday, the Astoria Houses community and NYC Kids RISE, a nonprofit working to expand economic opportunity and equity, hosted a virtual celebration of the $184,000 investment in 184 kindergarten, first, second and third grade students who reside in the NYCHA complex.
The students are all enrolled in the organization’s Save for College Program, a public-private partnership that creates 529 college savings plans for each student. NYC Kids RISE pitches in an initial $100 for each account, but families can add additional funds into those plans through donations.
“One of the underpinnings of the Save for College Program is the connectivity within and across communities,” said Debra-Ellen Glickstein, executive director of NYC Kids RISE. “Our children will be successful when we recognize our collective responsibility to them and one another. This effort epitomizes this ethos.”
To date, more than 13,000 students in District 30, which encompasses neighborhoods in western Queens, are enrolled in the program, which makes up 95 percent of all kindergarteners, first graders, second graders and third graders in the district.
Collectively, almost $5.3 million has been accumulated in those accounts, including support from the Gray Foundation.
According to the organization, which cited recent research, a child with a college savings account between $1 and $499 is three times more likely to go to college. They are also four times more likely to graduate than a student without an account.
New York City students in the top 10 percent income bracket are 20 times more likely to have a college savings account than those in the bottom 20 percent bracket.
“We want every single one of the children living in our community to know that they can achieve anything they set their minds to,” said Claudia Coger, president of the Astoria Houses Residents Association. “Education opens doors to tremendous opportunity. Our youngest need to know that they have a whole neighborhood behind them cheering them on.”
The virtual celebration on Saturday included a special musical act, well-wishes from local officials and a recorded read-along of Vice President Kamala Harris’s children’s book, “Superheroes Are Everywhere.”
It also featured a college and career community panel discussion with local parents, leaders and educators.
Dora Danner, principal of PS 234 in Astoria, spoke about the importance of talking to children early about college. She said it builds that pathway by making it part of their day-to-day thinking.
“It becomes second nature to them,” Danner said. “Having them think this way early on will keep them on a path to get them to a place to where they want to be.”
Andre Stith, student and family support manager at Zone 126 and a resident of Astoria Houses, suggested even taking young children on virtual college tours.
“Put that energy into your educational path,” he added. “It’s right there in front of you.”
Nadia Landy, a Save for College parent and an Astoria Houses resident, said she learned about the program when she moved to the community. She worked with the parent coordinator at her daughter’s school and even opened a 529 account for her other children.
“The Save for College Program is truly life changing,” she said. “I want my daughter to be able to pursue whatever career path she chooses, and this historic investment in our children’s futures will help make that a reality.”
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney said the program goes a long way to reduce racial wealth disparities. She said she hopes it serves as a model for communities across the country.
“This program will give these families the foundation to save college, build wealth and combat inequities in higher education achievement for Black and brown students,” she said.