LEWISTON — As of mid-April, 90 percent of Lewiston High School’s graduating seniors have applied to college.

“That’s huge,” Aspiration Lab Director Doug Dumont said. Last year the application rate was 70 percent.

One big reason why is there’s a second person working in the Aspirations Lab: Jessica Brancely, 24, an AmeriCorps member in the Multilingual Leadership Corps.

Brancely, who graduated from Thornton Academy and the University of New England, has a caseload of 25 multilingual students she coaches. Her students are from Somalia, Kenya, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda.

Her students often need extra support because they may have missed school or have a full load of classes while working to improve their English.

“Because of the relationships she’s built, she’s their go-to person,” Dumont said. “Now they don’t come to see Mr. Dumont. They come to see Jessica.”


In addition to working with her students, she helps whoever comes through the door and coaches girls’ lacrosse.

“She hit the ground running,” Dumont said.

Because of the difference she’s made, Brancely recently received an exemplary honoree of Maine’s 2016 Outstanding National Service Volunteer award under the Governor’s Awards for Service and Volunteerism.

“She exemplifies the spirit of this award,” Dumont said.

One big part of the work done in the Aspirations Lab is helping students with their financial aid paperwork and coaching them on how to stretch the dollars.

A lack of financial aid “is the No. 1 barrier for kids,” Dumont said. “We’re a low-income school. Jessica’s done good work developing a database for students to find scholarships.”


Too often, the financial aid offers from colleges actually come back with loans for parents, Dumont said. The two staffers help students write letters of appeal that share more insight into their situations in hopes of getting more aid to make college a possibility.

Brancely said when she first started in the fall, students assigned to her were reserved.

“Once we started interacting, they started sharing more, about their culture, foods they’ve made,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Her students are planning to go to such places as Central Maine Community College, the University of Southern Maine, the University of Maine, Fort Kent. Some plan to go to Minnesota, where a large Somali community lives.

Brancely will go back to school next year, too. She plans to start medical school in the fall at the University of New England.

To continue the work she’s done, Dumont hopes to secure a second lab staffer funded through a grant.

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