spotlight stories

spotlight on college alternatives

cj's story

If you met CJ Colon, you wouldn’t be surprised to learn that she once thought about becoming an actress. Animated, outgoing, and fearless, she relished roles in middle school productions of Annie and Cinderella. As a ninth grader, CJ joined the Boatbuilding Program because “I am always interested in trying something different, even if I don’t know what the outcome might be.” But she knew right away that there was something special about Rocking the Boat and recruited her older sister Destiny to sign up, too. At the time, CJ was attending a school located in one of New York’s impersonal mega high school “campuses,” – this one contained nine schools in one building. There were 300 students in her class and it bothered CJ that teachers would call her and her classmates by last name only. And, CJ noticed, “not a lot of kids graduated.” Though nervous at the prospect, CJ enlisted her Rocking the Boat social worker to help her transfer to a new, smaller school for her senior year. It proved to be the right move and she earned her diploma this past June. Rocking the Boat’s social workers follow a highly organized program to lead students towards post-graduation plans. The main thrust occurs in their junior and senior years with school campus visits, workplace visits, and information sessions that include parents, grandparents, and guardians. The goal is to expose these young people to the widest range of possibilities, to inspire an interest, or to explore an option they might not even have known they had. For the majority of Rocking the Boat students, the path of those dreams takes them to college. Of the 19 graduates this past spring, 14 enrolled in college courses for the fall. This 74% immediate college enrollment rate tops the 64% average for the city; Rocking the Boat’s enrollment rate over the last five years is 91%.

Yet, not all Rocking the Boat students fit this profile. The goals, interests, and learning styles of some students take them into fields where other education and training is needed.

CJ for example, despite the flirtation with acting, didn’t really know what she should do after high school but was certain college wasn’t for her. She dreaded the prospect of becoming one of those college grads who STILL didn’t know what they wanted to be. Then, on an especially hot summer Friday morning, she traveled from the Bronx to Pier 53 on the west side of Manhattan with her fellow apprentices to board FDNY Marine 1, New York City’s newest and highest-tech fire boat and learn what it’s like to be a firefighter. It was one of four career exploration field trips Rocking the Boat’s social work team had arranged that summer. “I immediately felt my heart race. It was a feeling I knew I wanted to feel every day. The positive energy I saw from the firefighters interacting with people was amazing. I have always wanted to make an impact on other people’s lives, whether it is someone I know or a total stranger.” This month, CJ started her classes in the Rescue Training International Program at Fordham University, the first step to fulfilling her aspirations to become a firefighter. She is supported not only by Stevi Feinberg, her social worker, but is also being mentored by a fellow Rocking the Boat alum who completed the same program and is currently working as an EMT.

michael's story

Michael Nunez attended All Hallows High School, a Catholic boys’ school not far from Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, and his guidance counselor and teachers were all highly oriented toward getting seniors into college. He loves to learn and stood out in the Environmental Science program as a leader and problem solver, but knew he didn’t want to go to college until he had decided what career path to take. His Rocking the Boat social worker stepped in to fill the void and offer him alternatives to college. Always good with his hands and tinkering with gadgets and computers, it all came together for Michael when he curiously clicked on a Youtube video that an electrician had recorded of himself assembling a fuse box. The next day Michael was in Stevi’s office to report he had signed up for the next available electrical aptitude test at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3, a large labor union offering an “earn-while-you-learn” apprenticeship program. It is a highly competitive process to receive one of relatively few spots that open up each year, but Michael feels well prepared. He passed the aptitude test easily and advanced to the next round in the process—a personal interview—and is currently waiting to hear the results which could mean the start of a five-year paid apprenticeship in the electricians union.

“My Rocking the Boat experience changed me for the better,” he said. “I never used to be very comfortable working with other people. It made me anxious. But it was different at Rocking the Boat. I enjoyed contributing to what the team was doing. That will come up a lot in my job.” If he does not get a call from the union, he and Stevi worked out a solid back-up plan: they vetted an electrician technical school, filled out a federal financial aid form, and applied for a Pell grant and a Rocking the Boat educational scholarship.

rocking the boat
812 edgewater road
bronx, ny 10474
phone: 718.466.5799

Rocking the Boat is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Download Form 990.