Queensborough Showed-up for Me so I Could Push Through for Myself

Published: June 28, 2021

Queensborough graduate April Simmons, ’21, has wanted to help people ever since her goddaughter, Brianna, was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease.

“Her intellectual disability motivated me to see what medical resources were available. I discovered that most agencies had low funding and could not provide a level of care necessary for her quality of life.”

Simmons, born and raised in Brooklyn, determined that she could make a difference. She cast a wide net in her search for healthcare-related jobs. She worked in several group homes and as a supervisor at HARC, a nonprofit community-based mental health agency in Hartford, Connecticut.  She also held positions at numerous day programs such as HeartShare Human Services in New York. In 2018 Simmons, a single mother of two, decided to settle in Jamaica, Queens where she was hired full-time as a caseworker specialist at a psychosocial club.

“I got the job because of my prior experience but was told I couldn’t go further in my career without a college degree.”

Knowing this led to what Simmons called a ‘light bulb moment’.

“My 19 year-old son and I were standing at a crossroads in our lives and wanted to go back to school. And that is when I found Queensborough, and that is when my life’s journey took a very positive turn.”

Simmons gathered credits she earned while attending previous community colleges and enrolled at Queensborough in the fall of 2020. “I was still working full-time at the psychosocial club while attending evening classes and taking care of my kids. It was 9-5, 6-9, and back again.”

Simmons said, “All my life I have cared for others, never putting myself first, so you can imagine how surprised I was the first time Queensborough texted me to see how school was going. I was like, wow! This is nice! Best thing ever! The texts were consistent, asking me if I needed Single Stop, Help Desk, Food Pantry, Loaner iPads or Time Management tips. I was really struggling with math and the texts steered me toward tutoring. I passed the course with a B-. I was even texted, ‘What is the biggest challenge you have at Queensborough’? That was epic, a lot of colleges do not check-in. Queensborough really checks in!”

Simmons says she misses Queensborough's texting service and hopes the college continues the program because it motivates students to push through.

“It was unbelievably important to me during the worst part of Covid. I lost my job, felt isolated and overwhelmed, but I knew I had to take lots of classes to graduate on time. That check-in—I was so grateful.”

The College uses Persistence Plus, a technology service that prompts students with messages to help them achieve academic goals, reframe obstacles, seek help from campus resources, and navigate the path to graduation.

Simmons said the ultimate text asked how her children would benefit from her education at Queensborough.

She answered, “A career with a better salary, shorter hours, and more quality time with my kids. This is about breaking generational patterns of decline in higher education.”

Simmons smiled. “I have a lot of firsts to be proud of. I am the first in my family of 12 to graduate from high school, the first in my extended family to attend college, and the first person in my immediate family to graduate college.”

Simmons, 43, will go on to Medgar Evers in the fall to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in psychology.

“This summer is one to celebrate. I’m going to get a season pass to Splish Splash and go to Detroit to visit my 96 year-old aunt. And when I need a pick me-up I’ll scroll through my Queensborough text messages. I’ve kept them all.”

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