Woodland Hills center helps students get into college
Share with others:
Jordan Barnes walked into the College/Career Access Center at Woodland Hills High School one day last week with good news for the people who had helped him through the process of applying to college:
In addition to being accepted to five of the six schools he applied to, Jordan, 17, of Turtle Creek, received an offer to play football at West Virginia Wesleyan College -- an offer that includes a $25,000-a-year scholarship.
Woodland Hills opened the center in spring 2009 with a federal grant that supports programs that help underrepresented students get into college. Two counselors help students -- and sometimes their parents -- with anything and everything they need to get into college: tutoring; preparing for the SAT and ACT; filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA; completing college applications; applying for scholarships; and editing personal essays.
The program is designed to help students from low-income households who would be the first in their family to go to college, although any Woodland Hills student can use the center, which is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on school days. The only two high schools in Western Pennsylvania to receive a grant for the program during the past four years are Woodland Hills and Clairton, according to Joyce Fratangelo, the Woodland Hills center's academic support consultant.
"Something like this should be available for all kids," she said.
High school principal Dan Stephens said it's not that students don't want to apply to college, rather it's that they don't know how or fail to follow through.
"If we don't have an open door somewhere in the building where they can get help and support, they shy away," he said.
The center has a dozen computers as well as couches, comfy chairs and tables for studying or reading. College acceptance letters line one wall under shiny letters spelling out "WE GOT IN!!" and another wall features scholarship notification letters.
Mr. Stephens said the center is well-utilized -- one day, he saw a group of seven students sitting in the cafeteria after school hours, studying and working together. When he asked what they were doing, the students told him they were hoping for tutoring help at the center, but it was full.
Ms. Fratangelo has the numbers to prove the center's success: In 2009, Woodland Hills seniors were awarded $2.3 million in scholarships and grants. That number has grown steadily, and last year Woodland Hills students landed more than $5 million in outside funding to finance their educations. She also keeps track of in-kind contributions -- those totaled more than $100,000 so far this school year. The in-kind contributions include a fully funded, six-week summer math and science program at Penn State University for a dozen Woodland Hills students -- a total value of $84,000 -- and waived application fees for the ACT, SAT and certain colleges.
Furthermore, this year's seniors were the first to attain the state-designated adequate yearly progress. Ms. Fratangelo credits that partially to the influence of the center and a schoolwide focus on post-high school plans.
"The culture of learning has changed," she said. "We like to take some of the credit, but not all."
When Delrika Carey of Braddock began her freshman year, she said her plans were to play in the Women's National Basketball Association. Now, as an 18-year-old senior, she's applying to colleges and has received an offer to play basketball at Clarion University of Pennsylvania.
"Her basketball skills will pay for her college education," Ms. Fratangelo said.
Jenna Butler, a 17-year-old senior from Turtle Creek, has a plan: She'll spend three years at the Community College of Allegheny County's Boyce campus before transferring to the University of Pittsburgh to complete a bachelor's in nursing degree.
She initially planned to do it all at Pitt, but she found out she could save $40,000 by starting at CCAC.
"That's money I don't have," she said.
College and career counselor Jennifer Damico said one 2012 Woodland Hills graduate, now a freshman at Youngstown State University, came back to the school to talk to students about her freshman year. Ms. Damico said the student was the first in her family to graduate from high school and is maintaining a 4.0 at Youngstown.
"She's just flourishing in this new environment," Ms. Damico said.
The federal funding that supports the program fell through this year, but the center kept its doors open thanks to a $50,000 bridge grant from The Grable Foundation. In the future, Ms. Fratangelo said, she hopes the district will fund the program, which costs about $170,000 a year to maintain, including tutors and trips to college campuses and college fairs.
"That way we won't be dependent year to year on the whims of the federal government," she said.
Mr. Stephens agreed on the center's importance.
"It's a program we would hate to see terminated because of lack of funds," he said.
First Published January 31, 2013 5:16 am