At SLPS’ new Collegiate School of Bioscience and Medicine, nearly 90% of this year’s first graduating class are headed to college.  At McKinley High School, the number of college acceptances rose by 50% over the past year.  These successes are the result of students’ hard work…and the unwavering support of the schools’ college specialists.  With generous funding from Enterprise and The Monsanto Fund, the St. Louis Public Schools Foundation is in its second year of supporting full-time college specialists at three schools.

SLPS and The SLPS Foundation also work closely with Missouri College Advising Corps and the Washington University College Advising Corps which train and place near-peer college advisors at an additional nine SLPS high schools.  The positions help to ensure that all SLPS high schools have a dedicated college & career advisor to guide students through the application processes for colleges and technical schools. Since many SLPS students will be the first in their families to pursue college degree completion, the support is critical.  Studies show that low-income students receive much less college advising than their wealthier peers (The Hechinger Report, 2015), which has a particular effect on first-generation college students (New York Times, 2/19/2016).

The specialists have spent the last two years meeting regularly with juniors and seniors, conducting seminars for freshmen and sophomores, engaging parents, editing essays, chaperoning college visits, helping with FAFSA forms, deciphering financial aid award letters and coordinating ACT prep classes.  They often work in collaboration with the high schools’ guidance counselors who also offer essential assistance.

One college specialist, Ms. JuMah Fennoy of Northwest Academy of Law, recalled how eager her students were to access information about maneuvering the college application process: “Words cannot describe the look on these seniors’ faces, wanting to grasp the knowledge of going from high school to matriculating into post-secondary education. Finally, they had the piece of the puzzle, showing them the information to get into college.”

Ms. Fennoy understands the importance of having support through the college application process: she shared her own experience with her students, that as a first-generation student from a low-income family of ten, she didn’t know what university or college she would be attending even on her high school graduation day.  She knew she had put the work in to attend college but was left sitting among her peers, worrying and wondering, where she would attend. Finally, she heard her name announced for a full athletic scholarship to Harris Stowe State College, a surprise that had been coordinated by her guidance counselor, track and field coach and athletic director.  “I don’t want a single student to sit in audience on graduation day and not know what their next step is,” Ms. Fennoy reflected.

Her former students seem to be equally affected: a few days before winter break this past year, five seniors who graduated in the previous class came back to visit Northwest, and Ms. Fennoy.  They spoke with the current juniors and seniors, and shared their experiences as freshmen at Philander Smith College, SEMO, Quincy, Arkansas Baptist, and St. Louis Community College; they emphasized the importance of application deadlines, award letters, and other aspects of the college application process. “To hear it coming from their peers, it resonated with them…it was a wake-up call before winter break, and the students came back in January, geared up and ready to go” for their own college application processes.

The other two schools with college specialists are also finding that this dedicated support is an essential ingredient for student success.  The specialist at the Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience, Monica Nickolai, led the effort to integrate ACT prep classes into the school day, and was proud to report that a new focus on meaningful summer opportunities resulted in two students selected to participate in the competitive LEDA program (Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America) at Princeton University.  McKinley High School college specialist Brittany O’Bryant was excited to report a significant jump in college applications submitted by McKinley students, as well as increases in college acceptances.

Collectively, these three college specialists helped their students access $9,622,204 in scholarship funds, supported students in earning 427 college acceptances, and provided over 3,300 contacts in which they coached students to take steps to plan for post-secondary success.  On behalf of the students impacted by this essential guidance, we extend our gratitude to Enterprise and The Monsanto Fund for making it all possible.

Additional news note: At its June 2017 SLPS Foundation Board meeting, the SLPS Foundation Board unanimously endorsed the St. Louis Regional Education Commitment, which outlines a strategy for increasing education attainment in the St. Louis region that is perfectly aligned with District and SLPS Foundation efforts.  Read more about this commitment here.

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