Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Meeting the Challenge

Spring Branch ISD’s volunteer-fueled Collegiate Challenge program paid off handsomely for 178 seniors when they learned recently that their hard work on thousands of essays and applications had returned $3.4 million to them – and the good news is still piling up!

On April 23, many Collegiate Challenge seniors joined with their adult mentors and family members in a first-of-its-kind public celebration and reception at the Omni Houston Hotel Westside.

The district-wide event drew about 300 people. It included a reception with simple hors d’oeuvres and speeches addressed to students and families by SBISD Superintendent of Schools Duncan Klussmann, Ed.D. Dr. Klussmann gave gathered students his personal cell phone number and told them to call him if they needed counseling on college-related topics like first-year scheduling.

The Collegiate Challenge program is the college-focused mentoring program that currently pairs 110 community members and district staff members with more than 170 high school juniors and seniors.

Students must apply to the program. Most are in the top 10 or 20 percent of their classes. During weekly meetings, students are guided and mentored through the college application and admissions process, as well as college scholarship application and financial aid options.

At the April 23 celebration, Community Relations Officer Linda Buchman announced the following achievements for the 2013 Collegiate Challenge graduates – as of the April 23 event date:
  • $3.4 million in student scholarship opportunities to date
  • Recent announcement of a Gates Millennium Scholars Program senior scholarship winner at Westchester Academy for International Studies
  • An Air Force ROTC Scholarship recipient, also at Westchester Academy
  • Several big or fully paid student scholarships awarded to Ivy League colleges, including a Stratford High student with more than $200,000 in scholarships to MIT and a so-called POSSE student scholarship for one Spring Woods High student to Bryn Mawr College.
  • Several seniors have had brothers or sisters who were also Collegiate Challenge graduates
  • In all, students had committed so far to 35 universities ranging from the University of California at Santa Cruz to the University of St. Edwards in Scotland
  • The most popular college choices for students are: Texas A&M (29 students); University of Houston (24 students); Sam Houston State University (10 students); University of Texas at Austin (9 students); and Texas State University (6 students)
The Collegiate Challenge student program was founded in 2000 by district counselor and administrator Pat Waldrop and teacher Janet Sims. They worked at two campuses, Northbrook and Spring Woods high schools.

Several years later, SBISD’s Community Relations Department helped provide district support. The 13-year-old program has now won many awards, including Texas High School Exemplar Program and 2008 Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s STAR Award.

With Exemplar Program recognition, the Collegiate Challenge Program was expanded to all four traditional high schools and to Westchester Academy, a district public charter secondary school. “Collegiate Challenge…. was born from the need to help students better understand how to navigate the college application process,” SBISD’s Pat Waldrop said. “Due to the collaborative efforts of our coordinators and the Community Relations Department, the number of mentors and mentees has continued to grow.

With that growth, more students are realizing their college dreams and are able to secure funding to assure fulfillment,” she also said. Major community partners in this longstanding effort include Chapelwood United and Memorial Drive Presbyterian churches, Shell Oil, Westchester Alumni Association and the Notre Dame Club of Houston.

A program this year at Spring Woods High was supported by non-campus administrators. During keynote remarks, Dr. Klussmann warned the seniors that making a planned transition between high school and college was critical, including smart first-semester and first-year course choices. “Call me,” he said, after giving the group his cell phone number. “It’s important to ease into higher education.” He also encouraged students to follow their own interests and passions, and to be open to new ideas and challenges.

Parents should be supportive, while allowing their new collegians to figure things out on their own. Klussmann praised the first-time Collegiate Challenge gathering.”It is very important to have parents, mentors and students all in one place at one time like this,” he said. Five seniors representing the separate Collegiate Challenge programs talked about group and individual achievements.

At the end of the program, college “trunks” filled with freshman must-haves ranging from sheets and towels up to iPod Shuffles and instant noodles were given away as door prizes. Collegiate Challenge program coordinators include:
  • Memorial High – Counselor Darla Shirley and volunteer Ann Tidwell
  • Northbrook High – Counselor Emilio Gonzalez and Lisa Slinkard and volunteer Jeff Hoye
  • Stratford High – Counselor D’Ann Franklin and volunteer Emily Van Buren
  • Spring Woods High – Counselor Farah Ranjbaran, district staffer Becky Wuerth and volunteer Sandra Newton
  • Westchester Academy – Counselor Beverly Martin 
Student Reflections on the 2013 Collegiate Challenge Program:

1 comment :

  1. It's a great feeling to see so many students making it to and through high school.


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