Getting That College Experience

College is very different than high school for many reasons, like being on a bigger, more intimidating campus and taking classes which are more difficult, but related to your interests. This spring 30 Wa-Hi students got to experience some of the differences firsthand at Whitman College, a small, private liberal arts college right down the road here in Walla Walla. Whitman Shadow Day was a chance for students to see the campus, hear about the admissions process, and visit classes. 

This event was coordinated in tandem by GEAR UP at Wa-Hi and Club Latino on campus at Whitman College. Students at Whitman volunteered to take a high school student with them to class and Wa-Hi students were matched with Whitman students based on their academic interests. After a brief Q & A session with some current college students, half of the students attended their class, while the other half went on a tour of the campus, including an in-depth look at the special collections department of the Library. Then there was a catered lunch with faculty members and a concert by two of the college’s a cappella groups, followed by a presentation on the college admissions process by one of the Club Latino members.

After all of this, the students walked away with a better understanding of the college experience and some free frisbees. Most of the students had nothing but good things to say about the classes they got to sit in on, and some of them made some quick friendships with the students they went to class with. Junior Wa-Hi student Loreen Herrera reported: “The best part of Whitman Shadow day for me was meeting the student I went to class with. they were really relatable and helpful. I also really liked the class and even ended up taking notes!”

Article contributor; Kevin House, AmeriCorps volunteer at Walla Walla High School.

Walla Walla High School student finds success through AVID elective class

In Mike Gobel's 9th grade AVID class this year, there are many exceptional students. Out of all these hard-working and intriguing young people, one student has shown the most improvement in her work ethic and academic confidence, two key goals of the AVID program. This student is Estefani Rodriguez.

Estefani uses many of the GEAR UP services to help her in her quest to be college and career ready. Estefani spends some time in the library getting help from tutors during Academic Lab. She works with GEAR UP Student Achievement Specialist to help keep her on track with her grades and college goals. 

This is Estefani's first year in AVID, and she entered Mr. Gobel's class unsure how she would be perceived as a student. With the tutors, Estefani is somewhat quiet, but when I asked her about her experience she gave me a very candid response. She told me that she had initially expected to be judged for not having great grades in middle school; but that had not been the case. Her AVID class made her feel like she deserved to be there.

Estefani has truly made the most of this commitment. She started out the year struggling in Math, and says she used the tutorial process to pull her out of the rut. Her hard work has shown results, too--according to Mr. Gobel she is one of the students whose GPA has improved the most over the year.

Yet even as she gathers success in some areas, Estefani remains aware that the road to high school graduation, and beyond, takes four years. She assured me that while her understanding of Math has increased, she is now focusing her efforts on History. In Estefani, I see a quiet determination that is only the beginning of a great AVID success story. I am so glad to have been a witness.

Estefani has been a GEAR UP student since her time in 6th grade at Garrison Middle School. 

Student Success Article by Molly Emmett. Molly is currently an AVID intern at Walla Walla High School, She will complete her undergraduate degree from Whitman College this May.

Dr. Mark Milliron visits Walla Walla High School Students

Dr. Mark Milliron visited Walla Walla High School on March 3rd for a presentation about “Becoming an Engaged Student.” He explained to us about what we can expect after high school and in life. He emphasized preparing ourselves for our future because there are going to be a lot of barriers along the way, but we shouldn’t stop trying to further our career goals. He gave different examples throughout this presentation, but the one that stuck with me and even other students I spoke to is how some famous people failed before they became successful. For example, the recording company for the Beatles said they “didn’t like their sound” but that didn’t stop them. Also, Oprah Winfrey was fired from her job as a television reporter because she was “unfit for TV” but now she is one of the most iconic faces on television. These successful people kept preserving, despite setbacks, to get where they are right now.

I really though Dr. Milliron’s presentation was great because not only did he give me hope, but said that “even if we stumble in life, get right back up and move forward.” He was encouraging and right to the point saying that we can be more than we ever imagined. That gave me confidence that I can be someone in their world if I put my mind and heart into it, especially when it comes to college. I plan on attending Seattle University or the University of Washington to try new things and explore what careers are best for me!

(Dr. Mark David Milliron is Co-Founder and Chief Learning Officer of Civitas Learning, an organization committed to helping students learn well and finish strong on education journeys.)

This article was written by Selina Ruiz, she is a senior at Walla Walla High School.

LEAP Conference: Encouraging Academic Success for Latino/a Students

Walla Walla High School GEAR UP partnered with Walla Walla Public Schools District (WWPS) to send twenty-eight Walla Walla High School students to the Latino/a Educational Advancement Program’s 2015 Conference held in Tacoma, WA on February 26 through 28. At the event, students heard inspirational stories from various Latina/o undergraduate students, graduate students, professionals, and keynote speaker Justice Mary Yu. Although all the speakers shared different life experiences, they all reminded our WaHi GEAR UP students that higher education is important and encouraged them to strive for that education.

Along with endorsing higher education, L.E.A.P Conference gave WaHi GEAR UP students the opportunity to visit the State Capitol Building in Olympia and meet their county’s representatives. During this meeting with the legislature, students presented a problem in the Walla Walla community they thought important. These students chose to address the lack of youth recreational resources as positive alternatives for de-stressing and community involvement. These students also elected Stephanie Reyes (‘15) and Miguel Baza (‘17) as their speakers during their meeting with House Representatives Marueen Walsh and Terry Nealy. While Reyes presented the students’ concerns about extracurricular activities, Baza shared his personal story to highlight why this issue is important to himself and other students. Although Walsh and Leary did not guarantee any projects addressing the students’ concerns they did encourage the students seek out community organizations, empowering these students to create change in their communities.

On the last day of the conference, L.E.A.P. organized two sessions of ten workshops that taught students about the Chicana/o movement, advocacy through storytelling, learning leadership skills, thriving in college, and many other inspirational and motivational subjects. Students even learned how to salsa and tango before the closing ceremony began. Through these workshops, L.E.A.P. provided cultural awareness as well as leadership skills and college readiness.

For most of these students this trip was their first time being in the western part of the state, which made for a perfect opportunity to visit college some campuses these students generally would not have the chance of visiting. Because of Olympia’s proximity to Lacey, we scheduled a campus tour and visit at St. Martin’s University after students met with their representatives. On the next day, on the way back to Walla Walla, students visited the UW Seattle campus and experienced dining at one of the campus’ cafes.

To ensure the experiences and knowledge gained by these twenty-eight students from WaHi was transmitted and shared with their parents, WaHi GEAR UP provide a space for student presentations and invited families to attend WaHi GEAR UP’s L.E.A.P. Parent Night on March 11. Students spoke on various topics during this event. Some spoke about what they learned and what they loved about the conference. Others gave a detailed description of the conference agenda and events. Still others spoke about their new found motivation through, inspiration from, and gratitude for all their families and community have done to set these students up for an educated future. To close out our event, GEAR UP Student Ambassador Gaby Rodriguez gave a presentation on college and career readiness. Students all came away from the experience with valuable college readiness skills, leadership skills and added to their skill set for post secondary success! 

Students included in the LEAP Conference from Walla Walla High School represented all 3 grants; HOH3, HOH2 and OVP2.

It's FAFSA time

Paying for college is one of the largest and most important investments in one’s lifetime. The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and the WASFA (Washington Application for State Financial Aid) can help cushion the dent college tuition makes on one’s wallet. These applications must be completed annually in order to qualify for nine federal student-aid programs, the 605 state aid programs, and most institutional financial aid. The Consumerist recently reported that college students failed to claim more than $2.9 billion in grants last year by not filling out the FAFSA in 2013. Washington state alone had $58.1 million of unclaimed Pell Grant money.

Filing the FAFSA and the WASFA can be daunting, so the GEAR UP staff at Walla Walla High School have spent all of the January Wednesday evenings (5-7pm) in the school library assisting seniors and parents with filing the FAFSA and WASFA, as well as providing general information about financial literacy. They also hosted one of these information sessions at SEA-TECH (Southeast Area Skills Center), one of Walla Walla Public Schools’ partners. SEA-TECH is one of 15 skill centers in Washington State that provides students with access to technical programs of study.

A common concern that students and parent have is that student grades will impact their ability to get money. While many scholarships have GPA minimums, federal aid is not based on grades. Another reason people don’t file the FAFSA is that they think they’ll fall outside the “correct” income bracket for receiving aid. The truth is that the FAFSA formula is based on a complicated formula that accounts for a lot of factors in addition to parental income, and so it’s hard to tell at first-glance if you truly won’t receive money. Don’t let yourself become the reason you didn’t get free money! Finally, some think the process for filing is too difficult. In reality, the FAFSA is easier to file than ever. It’s online and takes less than an hour of your time as long as you have your social security number and tax documents. No matter who you are or what you income is, file your application for student financial aid!

Upon completion of their FAFSA, students were rewarded with fancy WashBoard pens that come with USB flash drives containing information about scholarships and other college financial information.

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