Having no money and no role models can make the path from high school to college overwhelming.
Navigating financial aid forms, applying to colleges, knowing what university is the best fit and finding scholarships requires a guiding hand.
Counselors who focus on poor, first-generation students are being added in Spokane Public Schools’ district to help.
Through state-dedicated funds and fundraising, the College Success Foundation – a Washington program founded in 2000 to offer scholarships and mentoring to underserved students – is integrating college-prep advisers into the district’s high schools and middle schools.
“We need all hands on deck,” said Melissa Pettey, Spokane Public Schools coordinator of college and career readiness. “It can’t just be the school counselor. It can’t just be a teacher. It has to be the community too.”
Yakima and Spokane are the only districts in Eastern Washington offering the program. The foundation has been in Seattle and Tacoma schools for more than a decade. So far, there have been some promising results. Of those selected as College Success Foundation achiever scholars in 2009-10, 99 percent graduated from high school, 85 percent went straight to college and a majority tested into college-level classes.
“We began talking with Spokane Public Schools about three years ago. Spokane was one of the school districts that shared our strategic vision for their students,” said Sue Byers, the foundation’s chief academic officer. “The goal is to work in partnership with a district to be able to impact change for low-income youth in college enrollment and college completion.”
Advisers are working in North Central, Ferris and Rogers high schools. A counselor starts Monday at Lewis and Clark.
The college-prep advisers enhance the current high school career and college counselors’ efforts. And they offer one-on-one attention to a select group of students, up to 100 per high school. A few elements in the program include pairing high school seniors with a community mentor; going on a weekend visit to a college; receiving help with scholarships; and figuring out which college is best for a student.
“We’re not duplicating efforts, we’re supplementing, supporting and enhancing,” said Tammie Shaw, a College Success Foundation adviser who has worked at Rogers High School since November. “It’s an exciting opportunity to provide that more in-depth support.”
Students who qualify for the program must have a C-average or higher and meet income guidelines. Often they are the first in their family to go to college or technical school. Most kids will have already qualified for the state-funded College Bound scholarship, an income-based program that provides free college tuition to state community colleges and universities.
“Once the students are in college, the foundation has staff that work with the students on retention and college student mentors,” Byers said.
Spokane Public Schools Superintendent Shelley Redinger said the College Success Foundation “aligns perfectly with our T-2-4 goals, for every graduate to attend a technical, a two-year or a four-year school. It ensures our high schools and middle schools have high-level access to college resources and career opportunities.”