Leonardo Da Vinci High School in Buffalo was announced Monday as one of 12 winning schools across the state of the inaugural New York FAFSA Completion Challenge. FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
The challenge was organized by the The Education Trust – New York and limited to public schools where at least half of students are low-income.
"One of the big challenges that we see is that FAFSA completion rates are highest in the schools that have the smallest share of low-income students – even though what we know is that schools need to help low-income students in order to complete the FAFSA and be prepared to go to college," said Ian Rosenblum, executive director of The Education Trust – New York.
Ninety percent of high school seniors who complete the FAFSA go to college immediately after graduation compared to 55 percent of seniors who do not complete the application, according to the National College Access Network.
The challenge recognized schools for high application completion rates and improvements in completion rates from last year in multiple categories based on geography and school size. With a FAFSA completion rate of 79 percent, Leonardo Da Vinci High School is the winner for top performer among schools with less than 100 seniors in the "Big 4" cities: Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers.
"Something like FAFSA and this award really gets me excited because this is exactly what I want my students to have access to and to be recognized for," said Leonardo Da Vinci High School Principal Greg Lodinsky. "They’re wonderful students, they just need that financial boost to get them over that finish line."
Each winning school will receive a $750 scholarship for a low-income or first-generation graduating senior planning to attend college in the fall. Leonardo Da Vinci High School's scholarship recipient is 17-year-old Shahed Hanif, who moved to Buffalo from New York City during his sophomore year and is now graduating early. Hanif will become a first-generation college student when he starts at the University at Buffalo this fall. He plans to study physics as a pre-medical student.
Hanif said he was inspired to pursue a career in medicine by his older sister, a medical assistant.
"Whenever I would go with her to work, during the summer, she really opened my eyes a little bit about the kind of work doctors do. I think it’s very helpful to help people."
The school's guidance counselors, Maureen Brett and Cheryl Shul, said this recognition of their efforts to help students and parents complete the FAFSA only inspires them to work even harder next year.