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.

Final Exams and GEAR UP

Walla Walla High School is right in the midst of finals week. Students have been working extremely hard to prepare for their final exams. GEAR UP provides after school support in the Academic Lab located in the high school’s library. 

In the past few weeks, 9th and 10th grade students in the Academic Lab have been working closely with tutors to review final exam concepts as well as retake quizzes and tests. The Academic Lab tutors have been working with students to improve their study skills. Strategies that have been helping students review and understand material include summarizing notes, completing practice questions/problems, and re-teaching key concepts.

Specifically for Algebra students, the retake process for quizzes has significantly increased students ability to meet specific standards. This retake process is designed to give students the opportunity to review and take a practice quiz, and then retake the actual quiz for a specific algebra standard. This will allow them to potentially increase their overall grade, demonstrate their understanding of a standard and increase their likelihood of passing that standard on the Algebra End  of Course Assessment. 

The Academic Lab has seen an increase in students over the last few weeks, in preparation for finals week. GEAR UP tutors are hoping to see this number of students continue to increase as they utilize the resources available after school. 

Students Find a Kindred Spirit through AVID Speaker Series

“The starting point of all achievement is desire.” In other words, the force behind success is desire. For a senior in high school, desire can sometimes lack: waking up day after day before the sun rises just to go to a place that will only be reality for another year, it’s monotonous and exhausting. I, and my peers alike, sometimes lose sight of the long-term goal. That’s why every week in my AVID class I look forward to Fridays, not just because it is the last day in our weekly prison sentence, but because it is the day we get to listen to a guest speaker.

Nobody knows what it’s like to be me, that’s true, but listening to these speakers gives me hope. They share their stories of trial and triumph, and I go to my next class feeling like I can accomplish anything I want to. The desire is once again alight in me when I see a passionate adult talk about their dreams, their successes and especially their hardships. I thought I had a rough go until Mr. Diaz shared with us the story of his humble beginnings. I thought that I challenged myself until Mrs. Haider exposed us to her life in the Army. Even staff members I already knew, like Mrs. Meyer, were suddenly akin to me; she understood what I was going through, she could empathize with me, and I had no idea until she came to speak in our AVID class.

Though on the surface it seems like a tedious thing, every person has a different story. We high school seniors are indeed on the cusp of the rest of our lives. The scariest thing for us is the fear of the unknown, what lies beyond graduation, what do I do when I wake up the day after the blue caps and gowns are put away? These speakers have done it. They know exactly how we feel and that is something that none of us take for granted. It is an honor to have people who care enough to open themselves up to our class and it remains a key privilege that we AVID students enjoy thoroughly. 

Katrina James is a Senior at Walla Walla High School and an AVID student. 

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.

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