Fostering a College Going Culture in Walla Walla through Regional and National Partnerships

Walla Walla High School was excited to be selected as a Campaign Site for this year’s College Application Campaign; The College Application Campaign, operated through the Washington Student Achievement Council, is a national campaign serving tens of thousands of seniors across the United States. Wa-Hi is one of only a handful of schools from the Eastern Washington and the only school in our immediate area participating in this nation wide campaign. GEAR UP staff have been working the college admission representatives from across the northwest to increase the number of early applications that high school seniors file. During a typical application sessions high school seniors work in a computer lab as part of the English class and spend the full class period getting hands on help filing electronic applications to a college, university or tech program of their choice.

Some students arrived already prepared with the college(s) that they want to apply to and some students need a little more exploration time using online resources like Big Futures and WOIS to help them narrow down their choices and begin the application process. Regardless of where students find themselves in this spectrum, GEAR UP and the college admission representatives are on hand to provide them with resources they need to help them make the next step in their post secondary pathway. Some students already have completed their applications to the college(s) of their choice so they spent their time finding scholarships using additional online resources like The Washboard.

One rewarding moment for me during the first College Application session was seeing one of my students pull up a spreadsheet containing the important dates for colleges she was applying to. This was extremely refreshing and exciting since I had only met with this student a week ago. After working as a College Entrance Assistant for two months, I can honestly say I am seeing my efforts reflected in my students.

The first session kicked off October 23rd, and other sessions have been scheduled for November 5th, 10th, and 12th. This program and the partnerships with the Walla Walla High School English department, Washington Student Achievement Council, College Goal Washington and Northwest Colleges and Universities show the commitment our community has to developing a College and Career Readiness student body.

Luis Alba-Sanchez is a Whitman College graduate currently serving as a GEAR UP College Entrance Specialist working with WWHS Seniors.

Seniors explore their Personal Statements through classroom presentations

Classroom presentations for our whole cohort are one of many things I love about being a Student Achievement Specialist. GEAR UP has multiple whole cohort presentations over the course of the school year. Topics for seniors include personal statements, financial aid, budgeting your money, and transitioning to life after high school. Our October presentation with seniors focused on the Personal Statement, otherwise known as the College Entrance Essay. Students worked on rough drafts in class and learned about the importance of voice, style and revision. They also had time to read successful sample essays and discuss them in small groups. Though a single class period is all we have for this topic, our work does not end there.

Over the course of the year students will bring their personal statements to GEAR UP staff for feedback and editing. We have already worked with over forty students in the last few weeks. As the personal statement is such an important piece of the college and scholarship application process, it’s ideal to get the process started as early in the year as possible.

Rachel Hicks is a Student Achievement Specialist that works with Walla Walla High School Seniors.

College Campuses Expose Students to New Possibilities

The sky was still dark as students and parents pulled up in front of Walla Walla High School on a Friday and Saturday morning in October at 5:30AM. GEAR UP sponsored two campus visits in October with Washington State University’s Fall Preview Day on Saturday the 11th, and Central Washington University on Friday the 24th. Both campuses provided students who choose to attend with a unique experience and insight into the opportunities available at a State 4-year University.

WSU hosted a large event with an opportunity for our students to speak with representatives from the varying educational programs offered on campus through a fair. Students and families were given a speech about admissions and college life at WSU from one of the chancellors. Afterwards they were excused and broken up into preregistered sessions based on their fields of interest. They had a wide array of choices with business, healthcare, and culinary being a few areas. Parents attended separate sessions on information including financial options, scholarships, programs, and other important information regarding their students. The students received a lunch at a campus diner and then finished off with a tour of the Washington State University campus. Students came back excited about college opportunities and were asking great questions in regards to college planning even after a nearly 12 hour day by the time we returned to Walla Walla.

Central Washington was another early morning filled with half-awake students and parents on a bus for a couple of hours. However, once off of the bus we were moving either through a guided tour of the campus or the Anthropology Museum located on campus. At the museum they walked us through recent project to build a land bridge across the I-90 along the Snoqualmie Pass for Cascade wildlife to have safer access across the I-90. The campus tour was great, as well with the weather holding up nicely for us. From the tours we were able to explore the meal options at the Student Union and Recreation Center. Given the freedom to choose how to spend their money seemed to be a great AHA moment about growing up. They were forced to run a quick budget in their heads and plan on how much to spend and what to spend it on like cookies and coffee. When students finished with lunch they had the opportunity to explore the book store. We also heard an admissions and financial literacy presentation from a Central Washington University Recruiter. Students and families wrapped up the day asking questions of three current students attending the campus before we headed back onto the bus. Students again returned back to Walla Walla High School excited, especially a group of seniors who said before the trip they did not know much about the CWU before, but returned knowing it was where they wanted to attend college.

Trips like these provide students as well as their families the insight into the resources and opportunities available to not only get into, but be successful at a University. The student panels and college students helping out at the sessions were some of the most engaging conversations our high school students have experienced. Each student who attended one or both of these trips not only enjoyed the experience, but gained a better understanding of what college life would be like and the opportunities colleges can provide them.

WWHS students visit with area Universities, Colleges and Tech Schools

GEAR UP staff in collaboration with Walla Walla High School’s CCC (College and Career Committee) organized a College Fair held at Wa-Hi on September 30th, 2014.Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors attended the fair during the day through their English classes. They were given the entire class period if needed in order to give them time to visit with each college’s representatives. Washington State 4 year colleges and universities were represented and several regional 2 year colleges were in attendance as well. Perry Tech was also on hand to talk with students about specific tech school options. Several branches of the US military were on hand offering students information about post high school military options.

The initial planning phase of the Career Fair started with the need to reach more students in the High School with the information and services provided by the Universities, Community Colleges and U.S. Military branches. Wa-Hi’s English departments worked with the CCC to maximize the student’s face time with college representatives. One senior student stated that “if it wasn’t for the college fair I wouldn’t have known what all my options were for me as a senior.” The success of the College Fair was in large part this collaboration. English teachers had pre-work discussions and a follow up assignment with their classrooms on the College Fair exhibits. This process made students much more prepared and engaged, numerous college representatives shared that they were very impressed by our Walla Walla High School GEAR UP students’ engagement and conversations.

The College Fair was a huge success that GEAR UP and Wa-Hi are excited to continue in the future.

Watch out Cougs! Another WWHS success is headed your way!

Accountability and accessibility are two words that describe the impact GEAR UP has had on Paola Flores. GEAR UP, through the Student Achievement Program, has been a constant reminder, that steady pulse that helped push Paola to keep her grades strong and encouraged her to challenge herself. Paola and I met at least once a year as part of the Student Achievement Program to talk about her goals, wrestle with her high school class choices, identify her interests and college path. Paola became a constant fixture in the GEAR UP Center her senior year working on scholarships in the GEAR UP Academic Lab or at my desk asking pertinent questions. She frequently sought advice on final edits on her essays, to vent her frustrations and concerns throughout the college application and financial aid process, or would just come to talk.

Paola really dug into “connectedness” with the GEAR UP Student Achievement Specialist staff. She knew she could come to any of us at any time for assistance and did! Early in Paola’s junior year, I recognized her potential as a Gates Millennium scholarship applicant and approached her with the idea of applying her senior year. Her GPA was just below the minimum requirement, but it provided an opportunity to start the conversation about scholarships and the potential for gaining funds to pay for college through scholarship. Paola came to me the end of her junior year proactively looking for more scholarship opportunities. During her senior year Paola would often verbalize her concern over paying for college. Easy access to the Student Achievement Specialists and Academic Lab tutors provided Paola with the resources she needed to juggle school work along with her college and scholarship applications. Paola’s determination to attend a four year college is admirable, and although her family is very supportive of her choice to attend college she is the first in her family to walk through the process.

Paola is attending Washington State University this August and her scholarship efforts have paid off. Paola was awarded a full tuition scholarship through WSU, plus a $1000 award from the WSU Future Cougars of Color. On top of the WSU awards, Paola received two scholarships from the Blue Mountain Community Foundation totaling $2700, $500 from the Walla Walla Penitentary, and $500 from the Walla Walla Valley Educators Association.

Paola Flores is an HOH2 student success story. She is a 2014 graduate of Walla Walla High School and currently attending WSU in Pullman, WA.

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