Aspiring minds...Program gives soon-to-be grads a leg up

Counselor Deniece Derbyshire, center, helps Stanfield senior Aracely Urenda fill out an application for the Portland Art Institute Monday in the computer lab at Stanfield Secondary School.<BR><I>Staff photo by E.J. Harris</i>

Surrounded by paperwork, Aracely Urenda sat at a computer in a lab at Stanfield Secondary School. A first-generation college hopeful, Urenda came to the lab for the first meeting of the Aspire program, in which community volunteers help seniors apply for college and financial aid.

"I need the help," she said. "My mother - she can't help me with a lot of the things we are doing."

To apply to the Art Institute of Portland - where she wants to study animation - Urenda must fill out a raft of applications, such as the Free Application for Federal Students Aid and the Oregon Students Assistance Commission application. She must also write essays and complete scholarship forms. Because the Institute is so expensive, Urenda hopes to apply for at least 20 scholarships.

"It can be overwhelming," she said.

But, thanks to a number of programs the school initiated after it won a federal GEAR-UP (getting early awareness and readiness for undergraduate programs) grant, Urenda will likely be one of the many Stanfield graduates who enters college next fall.

In addition to the Aspire program, there is Generation College, for students who are the first in their families to go to college; Zapped, an after-school tutoring program; and new support services such as a college and career center.

The fruit of all this effort can be seen on the wall of Jill Miller's room, where several students' names, listed with the colleges they want to go to, are accompanied with bright yellow stars that read, "Accepted!"

"Considerably more students are accepted than even ended up going last year," said Miller, who administers Generation College. "We want to create a culture that college is attainable and the norm."

Miller said she has seen an incredible response to Generation College. Modeled on a similar program at Hermiston High School, the program helps kids get to college and offers support once they get there. Miller said she intends to send her students care packages and regular e-mails and invite them back to talk to younger students.

The new college and career center will be in a remodeled area of the front office. It will feature a computer for filling out applications and space for college literature.

"We're hoping it will be a hub," Principal Steve Ellis said. "We're going to highlight the names of last year's kids who went to college with pictures, so kids will say, 'Ooh, I want to do that, too.' "

The school is also expanding college visitation programs.

Last year, college field trips were just for seniors, but this year the juniors, sophomores and even middle-schoolers will go along, too.

Ellis said he intends to host banquet nights for parents, where they can learn which high school classes will best translate into a college degree.

And there are not just a few teachers who are getting involved. Instead of a weekly meeting, the staff gets together to discuss,"Whatever It Takes: How Professional Learning Communities Respond When Kids Don't Learn," a book about helping kids overcome barriers to success in school.

The administration has also looked closely at Oregon state standards and chosen a few to focus on, called power standards.

"Part of the whole thing is to make the curriculum more rigorous," Ellis said. "Kids have to learn a lot, or they're not going to be ready to step into college."

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