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SUMMER MELT

High school grads can lose their way to college over the summer

Originally published in the West End Word July 19, 2013

By Eileen P. Duggan

Stephanie Graham, a volunteer at the High School to College Center, speaks with Teana Portwood, a 2013 graduate of Ritenour High School. With Teana is her grandfather, Will S. Bolden Jr. Photo by Diana Linsley

Stephanie Graham, a volunteer at the High School to College Center, speaks with Teana Portwood, a 2013 graduate of Ritenour High School. With Teana is her grandfather, Will S. Bolden Jr.
Photo by Diana Linsley

In mid-March a group of high school counselors had an idea about how to combat the “summer melt” of high school graduates who don’t make it to college. Just 10 weeks later, that idea became a reality.

St. Louis Graduates opened the High School to College Center on June 1 at 618 N. Skinker Blvd. in the Delmar Loop. By July 1, it had served 100 students.

“It was an idea that’s so good you can’t not do it,” said Laura Winter, project manager.

The idea was to run a pop-up storefront office where new high school graduates could come to get answers about college financial aid, enrollment, registration, campus housing and transportation. The plan was hatched at a St. Louis Graduates professional development workshop when participating school counselors were lamenting the problem of summer melt.

Summer melt occurs when spring graduates who have been accepted to college get derailed during the summer by financial aid concerns, inability to get high school transcripts, lack of transportation to college, and other unexpected roadblocks. Nationally, an estimated 10 percent of students who intend to enroll in college for the first time don’t get there, according to St. Louis Graduates.

The High School to College Center has a team of 60 school counselors, college admissions officers, financial aid professionals and other volunteers at the ready to help students get back on the road to college.

Jasmine Franklin graduated in May from Cardinal Ritter Preparatory High School and plans to attend Stephens College. But in late June, she got a letter stating that her financial aid application contained an error, disqualifying her. She was freaked out, she said, and contacted her longtime school counselor, Christine Holladay. Holladay referred Franklin to the High School to College Center the same day, and a center volunteer was able to fix the application on the spot. The volunteer also informed Franklin of additional scholarship and aid opportunities. Now she’s back on track to wear her Stephens College sweatshirt as an enrolled freshman.

Bediako Ambonisye, a 2013 graduate of Clyde C. Miller Career Academy, had his heart set on studying electrical engineering. He was accepted to the engineering programs at several colleges.

“But I forgot to apply for financial aid,” he said.

After four visits to the High School to College Center, Ambonisye was able to work out an arrangement to transfer to Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla after two years at St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley. It wasn’t his Plan A, but “I’ve got to go somewhere,” he said.

The center’s counselors help by first addressing whatever question the student has, such as financial aid, then asking about the student’s plans for transportation, books and transcripts. Obtaining high school transcripts can be a problem because students often don’t realize there is someone at school during the summer to help. The counselors at the center know how to find those people.

“It’s trouble-shooting,” Winter said. “Experienced professionals know what questions to ask.”

The center also keeps a cabinet full of resource materials, such as pamphlets and hand-outs to give to students.

Two college counselors are on the premises every day as part of a rotating pool of counselors to help students solve their problems. A representative of St. Louis Community College is on hand every Tuesday.

Through the coordinated effort, “there is shared learning among the counselors,” Winter said. “We didn’t count on that.”

St. Louis Graduates was formed four years ago as a collaborative network of college-access provider organizations, K-12 educators, higher education representatives, philanthropic funders and businesses.

A focus of the organization is increasing degree attainment among low-income and first-generation college students in the region. But students don’t have be from a low-income family or the first in their family to attend college to use the center. The center serves all students who come in at no charge.

To get the word out to recent graduates, the center uses media publicity, social media such as Twitter and Facebook, flyers, and referrals by high school counselors and youth agencies. Cardinal Ritter senior Jami Cox and her University City Youth Society handed out flyers in the U. City Loop. Volunteen Nation, a network started by local teen siblings Simone and Jake Bernstein, has talked up the center on its website.

“We’ve gotten a lot of help from our friends,” Winter said. And judging by the volume of visitors, “clearly there’s a need.”

Other organizations, such as College Bound, also work to get students to college.

“No one organization would have been able to do this on their own,” Winter said. “It was an untapped need.”

The High School to College Center is supported financially and through in-kind donations by Citi, College Bound, Daughters of Charity Foundation of St. Louis, Deaconess Foundation, 501creative, Incarnate Word Foundation, Monsanto Company, James T. Pettus Jr. Foundation, Regional Business Council, The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis, Washington University, Equifax, Estelle W. and Karen S. Kalish Foundation, Jerome Pratter and United Way of Greater St. Louis.

The center is open from noon to 5 p.m. seven days a week through Aug. 18. An appointment is not necessary, but students may call 314-932-6956 or email info@stlouisgraduates.org for information. The office is on the northeast corner of Delmar and Skinker boulevards, a block west of the Delmar MetroLink Station.

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Learn more about the High School to College Center at www.StLouisGraduates.org and www.facebook.com/HSoCollegeCenter

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