Over the past year, rising eight grader Lindsey Shanley had opportunities that many students in small rural towns aren’t often afforded.

Shanley spent this year in virtual talks with astronauts at the International Space Station, a congresswoman in Washington, D.C., professional sports team managers, NASA scientists, executives, and college professors from across the country. She also had regular virtual meetings with her mentor, a student-athlete at Middlebury College in Vermont, to talk about college life, majors and career options, and how to prepare for college.

Shanley lives in Beekmantown, New York, a place in the Adirondack region that is “what you call farm country.” She said these programs made being remote for part of the school year manageable. “It was just nice to know that even though we’re away, we still have people we can talk to and our mentors are online,” Shanley said.

Shanley’s school, Beekmantown Middle School, partnered with the nonprofit College for Every Student (CFES) Brilliant Pathways. CFES is based in nearby Essex, New York, and has been active for 30 years working to help students in rural and urban areas across the country become college- and career-ready. Prior to the pandemic, its college readiness program was mostly offered in person and on site. It included student mentorship, college or career exploration, professional development resources for educators, and help to families trying to figure out the different pathways to college.

While the pandemic created challenges for the nonprofit, including how to make sure students had reliable internet access, the organization discovered a silver lining: In a hybrid world, kids who are often left out had access to wider networks and more opportunities.

The pandemic has only increased the urgency of CFES’s efforts to help kids get to college. Nationwide, rural students already had lower college enrollment rates before the pandemic, but the number of rural students planning to attend college plummeted by more than 18 percent in 2020, according to recent data.

Read the full article about virtual college prep by Javeria Salman at The Hechinger Report.