Students get one on one help with College Entrance Requirements at WWHS!

My first month at Walla Walla High School has been both fast-paced and rewarding. Under the wing of the Wa-Hi GEAR UP staff, I’m coming into my role of College Entrance Assistant. Most of my work has consisted of assisting seniors with writing their personal statements, researching potential colleges, advising on future plans and standardized testing, and helping students fill out college and scholarship application forms. I’m working with a new demographic—some of my students don’t know what the FAFSA is or how to apply to colleges. Some don’t have computers or internet access at home. Some still have trouble reading. Many are the first in their immediate family to graduate from high school and attend college. Realizing the barriers my students face has been important in addressing their needs and figuring out how to help them most effectively. My favorite moments thus far have been seeing my students’ eyes light up when they realize money won’t necessarily hinder their choice to pursue higher education; there is money available to them through scholarships, the FAFSA, and even loans. One particular case will always stay with me: “So what you’re saying to me is that I don’t have to stay here [in Walla Walla] forever?” I still tear up thinking about it. For many of my students, obtaining this money means they can attend their dream school and continue their education, whether in-state or a little further away from home. This means they’re taking steps toward the future they want and the future they deserve.

One of the best things we can do for our students is provide support for them. I attended a family engagement training at WSU Tri-Cities that greatly enhanced my understanding of how to create effective school and parent partnerships that result in the best possible situations for students. It really does take a village. GEAR UP opens up many opportunities to students who don’t know their options, and I’m honored to play a role in the program’s mission. I hope my students are learning as much from me as I am from them.

Zoe Erb is a recent Whitman College Graduate and works with HOH2 and OVP2 Seniors at Walla Walla High Shool

I Want to Make an Impact! Micah Aguilar's Key to Success

“I want to make an impact on this school and leave a legacy” said Micah Aguilar Garrison Middle School’s ASB President of the 2013-14 school year. When asked what his personal goal for 8th grade year was, and some of the answers to this question have been interesting, but most struggle to have set goals and a vision. Not Micah; who’s answer was telling of his character, as he has always had a vision for the future and constantly striving to create a positive impact.

Not only did he have a plan but he and his team were already implementing the beginning stages of his legacy. A dance between the two local middle schools, which combine to create WA-HI, with the intent for future freshmen to connect before summer officially started. Micah had many positive leadership experiences throughout his academic career, and wanted to give back to the school through this activity. He has participated in numerous GEAR UP activities and sponsored programs including: WEB(Where Everybody Belongs), AVID classes, College Field Trips, and 1-1 mentoring around college and career readiness. He is also involved in four sports at the middle school level and plans to continue three of them this year at WA-HI. Micah is a natural born leader as his public speaking skills along with his highly developed vocabulary cause his peers to listen respectfully when he speaks. He has said that this year there has been more work both academically and in the athletic arena, but he is enjoying the challenges they bring. Micah’s family is another layer of his success as both parents are actively involved in his many different avenues, and fully encourage his involvement in academics and athletics.

As impressive as those aspects of Micah’s life are; perhaps the academic realm is even more outstanding. Currently enrolled in three Honors courses: Algebra 2, English, and Science as a Freshmen, Micah’s stellar grades and rigorous course work have been aided by GEAR UP and the school districts programs, resources, and staff. Micah’s overall combination of dedication, involvement, and support has created a foundation for High School Success. Students like Micah inspire educators and their peers to continue to work hard while believing in your dreams.

Micah Aguilar is currently a freshman in the HOH3 Program at Walla Walla High School

Exploring Careers in the Walla Walla Valley

This summer, the GEAR UP Algebra Readiness Summer Program offered to incoming freshman HOH3 students at Walla Walla High School included an eight hour career and college unit. Student Achievement Specialists Rachel Hicks and Lauren Hemenway wanted to bring a fresh element to the presentations by inviting real, live community representatives to the students to tell their stories, what they do now, and how they got there. The businesses that were contacted responded enthusiastically! Eight presenters came and shared unexpected tales of searching, wrestling with motivation and direction, college paths, and what they enjoy about what they are doing now. The representatives ranged widely in age and occupation, from the WSU student working as a park ranger at the National Parks Whitman Mission through the Federal Pathways program to the Humane Society Veterinarian that specializes in acupuncture on large animals, to the Whitman College Director of Business Engagement who formerly traveled the world working for Adidas in marketing and design. The students also spent time in self-reflection activities aimed at getting them to think about who they are, what they like and how these elements might tie into a future career and path of study. Resources included Families 4 College based activities as well as almost two hours in the computer lab exploring careers using WOIS and College Board’s Road Trip Nation.

The GEAR UP Algebra Readiness Summer Program career unit culminated in a Summer Career Exploration Day on Friday, July 11th. The thirteen students that signed up were assigned to one of three different career tracks laid out on a walking tour through downtown Walla Walla. The tracks included: Community services, Creative Arts, and Business. All the students and staff began their day at the Walla Walla Public Library learning a little about the services and volunteer opportunities available through the library, and about CrewSpace, an innovative Paul G. Allen Foundation grant-funded media and education center. Each subsequent twenty-minute stop within the individual Tracks included conversations with the business representatives, a behind-the-scenes look inside the workplace, and a chance for the students to ask questions prepared in a pre-exploration work session earlier that morning. Some of the other businesses included: The Walla Walla Symphony, Walla Walla Downtown Foundation, Windermere Real Estate, Colville St. Patisserie, the Juvenile Justice Center and Capps Broadcast group. The students returned to Walla Walla High School for a post-exploration session which included creatively processing their experience on large posters, then presenting their track as “track experts” to the other students and staff. The students concluded the day learning about deeper career exploration possibilities through job shadowing.

As GEAR UP heads into a new school year, plans are in place to begin a job shadowing pilot program. The summer college and career unit blossomed to include increased community connections from which to build upon resources needed for the pilot project. The goal of the job shadowing pilot project is to open up greater opportunities for students to sample careers, to gain knowledge of job appropriate skills and behaviors, help students discover what they love or hate, and provide them the guidance needed to decide what the best post-secondary path will be for them.

Adelante con Educación, GEAR UP Students attend The 2014 ACE Conference at UW in Seattle

On May 30th and 31st, 2014, six Walla Walla High School students went to the Adelante con Educación (ACE) Conference at the University of Washington. The focus of the conference was to learn about current issues affecting Latino students and increase cultural awareness. They were able to explore the UW campus and to learn about financial aid, the application process, and programs UW has to offer.

The students were excited for the opportunity to experience new aspects of their culture and visit a new place. One student said, “I really liked the ACE Conference because of the Aztec dance during La Noche Cultura. It was something new I had never seen before. Also, I really liked it because I have never been to a conference, so it was something new for me and was very exciting.”

The goal of increasing cultural awareness really resonated with 11th grader, Veronica Ocampo. She said, “There are no limits to education, that’s what the ACE Conference taught me. The activity I enjoyed the most was La Noche Cultura. It opened my eyes to the Chicana(o) culture. The amazing ceremonies and prayers among the Aztecs left me speechless. Who knew there were indigenous people around us to show the beautiful culture that lives in each of us. Thanks to the GEAR UP program for this great opportunity.”

The UW admissions and financial aid presenter encouraged students to work hard in high school in order to be eligible for scholarships and to have competitive admissions applications. Christian Moreno said, “The ACE Conference inspired me to do my best and it gave me nostalgic feelings about my home country.”

Overall, students felt exhilarated, empowered and tired by the end of the two days. After we left the campus students discussed whether or not UW might be a good fit for them. They continued asking questions about UW, the Aztecs and other native groups on the way home.

ACE attendees from WWHS included both OVP2 and HOH2 Junior and Seniors!

College Campus Visits Sparks Renewed Passion for WWHS Juniors!

With only scattered memories of Krispy Kreme doughnuts and the Space Needle in my memory, I, along with my Junior AVID class, ventured to Seattle, Washington for the field trip of a life time. This trip was sponsored and planned by GEAR UP. I was about seven years old the last time I was in Seattle and now I only have vague memories of rain and pine trees. Upon my return to the home of the Super Bowl winning Seahawks, I can see that my vision of miserable weather and doughnuts was very misleading.  When we went to Seattle not only was the sun smiling (which I'm told is rare in Seattle) but every place we went had an enchanted feeling to it.

The Chihuly Glass Museum was perhaps the most enchanted location we visited. Our very first steps off of the Charter bus (that had a very nice driver might I add) led us into a world made of vividly colored glass blown with expert precision into shapes that one can only dream of. Walking through the museum was the equivalent of falling into the rabbit hole in Alice and Wonderland. I, along with my classmates, became entranced by the glass: glass blown to look like flowers, glass blown to look like animals, glass blown to look like specimen from an alien planet. From the moment I got off the Charter bus, I was already in love with this field trip. 

When we arrived at the hotel after a long day of bus riding and Seattle exploring, I could already tell it would be the nicest hotel I’ve stayed at.  I must just say what a pet peeve it is of mine that hotels only have little shampoos and conditioners? Well, the University Inn had hand-pump conditioner, shampoo AND body wash- not hand soap poorly labeled as "face and body soap" (you can't fool me.). The front desk man- Jediah, long time resident of Seattle- was pleased to give me his advice on where the best cafes and shops were, and while we didn't go to a single place he suggested, it was still nice to have his input. In my opinion the only downside to the hotel was that the pool was closed (upon reflection it was a good thing because 6o high school students in a 10 foot wide pool is a recipe for disaster.) Indubitably, my favorite part of the hotel was the coffee, made from a Keurig maker, because how lovely it is to gaze out at a foreign place with a cup of coffee that I didn't pay $4.99 for.

In fact the only out of pocket expense to the students that went on the trip was $10 dollars for the Chihuly Glass Museum. Thanks to GEAR UP, my AVID class and I paid minimally to explore Seattle, stay at a classy hotel and- oh yah!- visit colleges! The most exhilarating and frightening aspect of the trip for me was the college visits! We visited three campuses; University of Washington, Seattle U, and Central Washington University, by the end of the trip I got more exercise than I bargained for.

‘UDUB’ had an exquisitely large campus and a variety of majors to choose from. Our tour guides were very informational and pleasant and I guess they didn't mind all the stairs and steep inclines we walked up, or at least they never seemed to get tired. The tour included a brief class of either CSNE and Drama, or Business and Art. I chose the first. It blows my mind that the technological advances we make everyday that go unnoticed to those outside the CSNE lab. Maybe those milestones would easily identify themselves if I utilized the skills of observation I learned in the Drama class. While the trip to ‘UDUB’ may have ended up opening my eyes to the kind of campus I didn’t want, what it did accomplish was to widen my vision of exploring possible majors that I might be interested in and had not thought about before, and that vision is priceless.

Next we went to Seattle University, a private and religious based college located in the most happening spot in Seattle. My, my, my the things Seattle U has. The general consensus of the class is that Seattle U was the best college we went to for a number of reasons (but I'm only going to tell you my reasons). First; the campus was small with and had mostly simple and tall red brick buildings that would look very quaint through the lens of a camera. Second; though its location is deep in the heart of Seattle, the campus somehow remains quiet and serine. Maybe that's due to the smaller student body, maybe it's because the buildings are so high, who knows. And lastly; every single student we passed was very friendly, well dressed, and quite frankly attractive.

That brings us to CWU our final stop on the field trip of dreams. Many of the AVID students had already been to CWU, however I was not among them. Located in a town similar to Walla Walla, CWU has a quiet campus more spread out than SU, yet much more compact than 'UDUB.' The food was pretty darn good (once again thank you GEAR UP) and our tour guide- Mack- was very informational and interactive. He could also take a Mac-n-Cheese joke pretty well. CWU seemed very close knit by traditions unique to the school. The student body has a real community feel to it, yet people are still independent from one another. I think CWU is a college worth visiting more than once. Also, there are no stairs.

Finally that brings our 2014 AVID field trip to a close. I cannot express my personal gratitude toward GEAR UP for this experience enough, nor can I begin to express the gratitude of my fellow classmates. There are many things that you remember in high school, and this will be one of them for me. Yeah, we got to see cool sights, and buy things, and drink fancy hotel coffee, but at the end of the day everyone on the trip was united by one common goal- to find a college they like and go for it. Whether any of us go to 'UDUB', SU or CWU or not is irrelevant- what matters is the knowledge of what you do want in a college. Seattle was a mystical place for me, and this field trip has given me an understanding of what college really is and why it's essential in this day and age to go to college. Thank you GEAR UP for providing me and my fellow classmates with this phenomenal experience and invaluable knowledge. And I look forward to E-mailing the head of admissions at Seattle University.

-Katrina James is a Walla Walla High School Junior and an AVID student.

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