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Help Support Low Income Students During COVID-19

Help Support Low Income Students During COVID-19

Seeking more spotters in Prescott, AZ.

I spent this past Memorial Day weekend at Trout Creek, north of Madras, OR. I was climbing with two of my best friends and climbing mentors, enjoying the weather and the basalt columns. Outwardly, I was revelling in my first camping trip in 2 months — a tough drought after spending 40 weeks in the field the previous 15 months. Inwardly, I was thinking about the future.

On June 1, I cold called about 30 camps, and APB was born.

My aspiration was to create an in-person learning community in nature for college students studying online. I had spent some time thinking about how online education and falling enrollments might open up space for a fundamentally better college experience — one more focused on student choice than administrative convenience.

Fast forward to three weeks ago, we welcomed 34 students from over 29 universities across the country to our first campus in the Bradshaw Mountains. In the midst of the tumult of today, our mission to create more connected, integrated, compassionate college communities has never been more important.

From the beginning, I’ve been asking myself: how can we make A Place Beyond accessible to all students, especially those from low-income backgrounds? In fact, our very first hire, Julia Pinney, came on to work with Financial Aid offices and Foundations for this exact purpose in June.

What we’ve found working one-on-one with students is that there are creative ways to help cover their expenses at APB, especially through housing refunds, or re-allocating room and board expenses from a 529 fund, need-based scholarships, merit-based scholarships, travel grants, and more.

However, these re-allocation of funds are not always enough. In several instances, myself and the rest of the Instructor team have taken salary cuts to provide financial aid for students we wanted to be a part of this community.

Over the last few weeks, our community has come together about where we are and where we want to go. As we talked about the future of APB, one piece was universal — APB should be a place for everyone, we must make it more accessible. At that point, we had a choice: say that's a nice thing to work toward in the long term, or do something about it right now. I'm proud to be working with and for a group of people who wanted to do something right now.

We’re raising $20,000 in order to provide need-based aid for students joining our next cohort from October 17 - December 22. This will allow us to expand access of APB to first-generation, low-income students and others disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

(For a sense of these inequities, I’d highly recommend this Fall 2020 report on Facing COVID-19 at Home: An assessment of college persistence for UNC-CH’s First Generation College Students. You’ll see, for example, that first-generation students agreeing with “I have a great study environment” plummeted four-fold, from 84% pre-COVID to only 20% this fall).

At A Place Beyond, we want to meet the needs of all students, especially those from low-income backgrounds. We’re providing food security, cabin accommodations, quiet study spaces, WiFi, community support, and mentorship. Additionally, students will have opportunities to participate in guided outdoor recreation, instructor-led workshops, regular community events, weekly mentor-mentee meetings, small group gatherings, and more.

In addition to providing COVID relief for college students who need it most, your donation also shapes what A Place Beyond is (and will!) become.

We’re hyper-aware how our founding cohort this fall sets the foundation for our culture, programming and values, and we know that the more diverse those voices are, the better.

We aspire towards creating a space for those who’ve historically been excluded and underrepresented in the outdoors and summer camps.

We’re excited to serve as a pilot for a new kind of college social experience and support system, and in particular, partner with organizations supporting students in college persistence.

As a four-month old project, it’s still early innings for us. We so appreciate you being a part of our journey.

Ciarán

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