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Smartphone apps aim to help low-income students college prep


A Buffalo charter school leader has created several mobile apps that aim to break down roadblocks for low-income and first generation college bound students. The apps help students find the best college for their career goals and financial situation.

“In ninth grade, for instance, there are four steps and they are: 1.) to identify your obstacles, both in your life, as well as academically, and make a plan to overcome them, 2.) to choose a four-year high school course of study that will make you college ready and college bound, 3.) to explore what kind of careers you would like to do and what kind of education you need to have those careers, then 4.) target the kind of college major you need in order to have the career that you want,” said Executive Director of King Center Charter School Keith Frome.

Frome helped create 19 mobile apps that target the milestones students need to overcome in order to get to and through college. The software corresponds with the College Summit App Map, a flyer that helps students navigate through the apps. Frome says hard copies were given to various schools across western New York.

'This is a way to get actionable information in the hands of kids...'

“This is a way to get actionable information in the hands of kids. All of these apps are also connected to social media, particularly Facebook. So, it’s also is a way to get kids using the technology, and to have access to other peers who are in the same boat, who can then encourage each other to make it through,” said Frome

The apps include one called “Zombie College.” It allows the student to learn what steps they need to take in order to get into college using interactive cartoon graphics.

“The milestones go through the air and if they hit you, you turn into a zombie, but if you can swipe them away and achieve them. You turn into an achieving student,” said Frome.

There is another popular app called “Woop.” It helps students figure out their personal and academic obstacles by teaching them about tenacity and grit. But the most controversial app in the bunch is "College Abacus," an application that helps students find the right financial and academic match.

“A lot of kids, particularly low-income kids, go to a college because they think it’s going to be cheaper, but it’s not the right academic match for them. They’re actually more qualified than the college that they choose. So, when they go they’re not that stimulated so they drop out. So, what College Abacus does is say, for instance, for some kids it’s cheaper to go to Harvard than it is to go to a local community college, because at Harvard you go for free if your parents make less than $60,000 a year,” said Frome.

Credit Ashley Hirtzel/WBFO
Executive Director of King Center Charter School Keith Frome.

King Center Charter School was awarded $2.5 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to create the mobile apps through the College Knowledge Challenge. The applications were recently presented at the U.S. Department of Education’s second annual Education Datapalooza hosted by the White House. Frome says he told attendees he believes the apps will not only help low-income students, but all students achieve their college objectives.

“Every child needs a knowledgeable nurturer and nagger. The goal of the public school system should be to provide that knowledgeable nurturer, nagger in the lives of these kids. How do you do that at scale? How do you do that affordably? These are the big questions that were driving us. Well technology has to be the answer,” said Frome.

The apps were created with help from College Summit and Facebook. They can be found at collegeappmap.org. Frome says if students don't have access to the apps at home, they can be used on school or library computers.

WBFO/Western New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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