CARS 2020: A Virtual Road to College Readiness


Daniel Toll

Despite the unfortunate circumstances that have come to light due to the coronavirus pandemic, Ms. Driver and her team of volunteer seniors are doing all they can to continue providing juniors with college readiness resources through CARS.

Daniel Toll, Editor-in-Chief

As uncertainty, apprehension and fear concerning the Coronavirus pandemic continue to ripple throughout our local community, several “non-essential” businesses, organizations and institutions have been forced to suspend full operation until the White House and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or Florida governor Ron DeSantis, rescind their respective stay-at-home orders.

On the national scale, these orders have resulted in headlines regarding exponential increases in unemployment rates as millions of American citizens have been laid off of their jobs, the cancellation of major tourist attractions and events, and the apocalyptic lockdowns of major cities as confirmed Coronavirus cases skyrocket with a tragic death toll.

In the state of Florida, one of the swiftest actions taken by school district superintendents and Governor DeSantis was to suspend school indefinitely, with no set timetable for a return. Initially, the Miami-Dade County Public Schools School Board approached this pressing issue with optimism, declaring that April 15 would be a date of re-evaluation as to when schools would fully return to normal. However, two weeks prior to that date on March 31, the School Board moved said date to May 1, leaving just over one month of a gap between a potential return and the scheduled end of the school year.At Coral Gables Senior High, these executive decisions have resulted in a flurry of drastic, but necessary changes, including the cancellation of numerous end-of-year trips, conferences and competitions, but one program in particular seeks to continue operating at maximum capability from a distance.

CARS, or the College Admissions Readiness Symposium, has been guiding rising Cavalier seniors through the college application process for several years now, doing so with an exclusive week-long program run by the College Assistance Program (CAP) Adviser and a group of current seniors that have gone through the process themselves and wish to share their experiences with the next wave of college applicants.

For nine years, the CAP Office was led by Ms. Elizabeth Stack, a ‘Yale Educator Award’ winner who was crucial in the establishment and development of the CARS Program. Having retired at the end of the 2018-2019 school year, Ms. Stack’s responsibilities as CAP Adviser shifted to former International Baccalaureate (IB) Counselor Ms. Khushnuma Driver who, in her first year as the CAP Adviser, has also assumed the responsibility of organizing the CARS Program.

“CARS is a college readiness program that prepares rising seniors for the college application process. From writing personal statements to creating a college list, being part of the CARS program has always allowed students to be well-prepared for the college application season,” Ms. Khushnuma Driver said.

This year’s CARS team consists of Ms. Driver and seniors Madison Abraham, Eduardo Caldera, Rodney Michel, Yazmin Quevedo, Adriana Ramirez and Daniel Toll. While they had already begun planning the CARS Program as if it were to be held in school, they are quickly adapting to the present situation, making as many necessary adjustments as possible to ensure CARS still takes place, whether it be virtually or – in the case of a miracle – in person come late May.

Typically, CARS lasts between four and six school days, with each day covering a unique aspect of the college application process. Different sessions of the program include the creation of a college list, finding out what type of college is best for you, how to write the ‘Personal Statement’ and college-specific supplemental essays, and how to apply for scholarships and financial aid.

“CARS builds the foundation of your college folder. By the time senior year rolls around, you will have most of the basics to apply for college. From that point onward, you would only need to write supplements if your school requires it. It also alleviates a lot of the stress around that time of the year, especially if you are in IB, since it tends to be around Internal Assessment season,” senior Andrea Bordon said.

Given the circumstances that have come to light following the rise of the Coronavirus pandemic, the CARS team is angling to use webinar or video conference platforms, like Zoom, to be able to continue to offer this invaluable experience to Cavalier juniors. Every year, CARS supports up to around 150 students with their college readiness efforts, and being able to reach out to students through mass communication outlets, while unconventional, is ideal in the present situation. Doing so would give juniors and the CARS team the opportunity to participate in an active, live chat room where they can interact with their peers and collaborate on activities that would involve large groups of people anyway.

In addition to online video chats, the CARS team plans to introduce juniors to a variety of online resources that are readily accessible from home, like Scoir – a trusted network designed to match students with colleges and universities around the country – and ‘The College Essay Guy’ himself Ethan Sawyer: a nationally recognized speaker and college essay mentor who instructs college applicants on the essay-writing process through thorough, insightful discussion and deep personal reflection. All of which can be accessed from the comfort of one’s own home and through a screen.

As the CARS team continues to plan this year’s program, they are sure to come across obstacles along the way, especially under such short notice, but the diligence and perseverance they have displayed in pursuing alternative options to their typical agenda to be able to offer this opportunity to Gables’s rising senior class has truly been remarkable. For more updates on CARS, please follow @gables_cap on Instagram and Twitter, or reach out to Ms. Driver through the Coral Gables Senior High School website.