Equity Drives Everything We Do
The current reality is that not all students have the same opportunity. Access to transportation, technology, social capital, spaces to convene, paid work experience, and credential programs with labor-market value are all prime examples of the barriers our students face, and ones that we must work to systematically address.
We are committed to ensuring that ALL students are supported with the relationships, connections and resources they need to thrive in the future career they choose for themselves. Specifically, this means access to a multitude of developmental paths that lead to high-demand, family-wage careers in our communities.
As we work toward a future where ALL students find a career path, we have the following shared commitments to ensure our shared work is serving students from priority populations:
Regular reflection and analysis of the barriers that limit access to opportunities, and a commitment to address and remove those barriers (whenever possible).
Respect for, and integration of, the wisdom, voice, experience, and leadership of community perspectives.
Regular use of disaggregated data (where possible) to identify and target resources for the people and places in greatest need, to maximize impact.
Develop shared ownership, co-creating the programmatic, systemic, and policy solutions needed to address systemic inequities in our region.
Commitment to find solutions that will have impact at a region-wide (perhaps state-wide) scale.
Prioritize cultural proficiency, and intentionally reach out to our whole community.
Conduct ongoing self-examination to ensure that the membership, and leadership, in our network are also demographically representing our region.
We serve students, who, based on data, face greater barriers to opportunity: students of color, students from low-income and rural communities, and young women.
Washington State Financial Aid Proviso
Financial aid application completion is an indicator of being on-track to obtaining a postsecondary credential and having access to a family-wage job. Like many civil rights issues, not all youth have systemic support for financial aid completion. Put into clear terms, youth and families who are furthest from educational and institutional justice often face systemic barriers when navigating financial aid completion. The opportunity for all youth to have access to a bright future means systemic support for financial aid completion via the three ways a student can apply for financial aid: FAFSA, WASFA, or the apprenticeship financial aid application, is critical.
Capacity must be built so that systems and partnerships, along with extensive resources already developed, can create and enable the environments and supports students need to complete and receive financial aid. Despite some of the best financial aid programs in all 50 states, Washington historically has some of the lowest completion rates, particularly among populations who are oppressed.
During the 2020 legislative session, Senate Bill (SB) 6141 passed with almost unanimous bipartisan support, in large part because it “recognizes the increasing importance of postsecondary education as a tool for economic resilience and mobility.” (Sec. 1) With this bill, the legislature attempts to remove some of the systemic barriers to college matriculation, especially for students furthest from educational justice and opportunity. SB 6141 requires all districts with a high school to host an annual Financial Aid Advising Day (FAAD) event to provide seniors and their families with relevant information about financial aid and scholarship opportunities and direct support to complete federal and state financial aid applications. The Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC) was tasked with developing a college financial aid calculator that could be demonstrated at the FAAD as well as providing districts with financial aid training, fliers, and resources to share with families.
West Sound STEM Network, through intensive collaboration among regional STEM Networks and their districts, non-profit, higher education, statewide and community partners, has, and will continue to, provide targeted support to students, families, and school districts to increase Financial Aid completion rates. We work to leverage community-based partnerships to increase financial aid filing assistance and further develop a college-going culture in communities furthest from opportunity, host informational sessions for students and families, train trusted community partners as Financial Aid Navigators and engage in outreach, especially for those students who are under-represented in financial aid applicants and who have been historically excluded from higher education opportunities and postsecondary credentials that are pathways to self-sufficiency and career success.
Find out more about the ongoing efforts to increase completion rates in Washington by reading the Financial Aid Completion Playbook, developed by WSSN and its many partners.
“We have a rich and vibrant STEM learning at our school that is intricately tied to sustainability and therefore career-connected learning. The Suquamish maintain a strong connection to the environment and to being economically aware. Computer science pathways and maritime pathways are imperative in order to engage in field and environmental science and will be highly valuable to our students and teachers. Past and current experience with the West Sound STEM Network has demonstrated to us that our culture, students, and teachers are honored, served, and are invited to lead.”
—Lucy Dafoe, Pauquachin First Nation
and West Sound STEM Network Executive Board member