By Polly Keary, Editor
Everyone knows that the process of getting into a good college starts way before the applications are filled out.
Getting into a good college now requires careful planning throughout high school, and the Monroe Public Schools Foundation this year will help three good sophomore students with the process, coaching them through the next three years to help them achieve their academic and career goals.
It’s called Next Step, and it’s in its third year in Monroe.
“So basically what we do is we help students apply to the college of their choice,” said Heidi Simmons, a leader of the project. “We help them narrow down what they want to study; and we help with preparing for the SAT and the ACT; and we help them get connected with people in the community if they need help finding like a mentor for their culminating challenge.”
This year, the first of the kids who started the program three years ago are reaping the rewards.
Taylor Gese, with the help of mentors and the support of the Monroe Rotary Club, got into NYU, her dream college, with a $32,000-a-year scholarship.
The Rotary Club, which started the program before turning it over to the foundation, also helped Savanna Fordham attend a summer program in Europe, and she has been accepted into the Coast Guard Academy. Dyltan Marashi has been accepted to two of his top-choice schools, Gonzaga and Seattle Pacific University, with full funding for each, and is now trying to decide between them.
In order to help students achieve those kinds of results, a team of mentors meets with each student, taking turns to attend weekly meetings to keep the student on track.
Typically the program seeks two mentors per student, and it’s a sizable commitment, meeting every other school week for half an hour to an hour for two-and-a-half school years.
But knowledge of the college application process, while nice, isn’t necessary.
“We help them keep on track, staying organized, following an outline, making sure they are meeting certain deadlines,” said Simmons.
During the first year, the mentors and the students talk about possible careers or areas of interest. Then they help them steer their academic career in such a way as to maximize their chances of success.
“We want to help them kind of stand out from their peers when they are applying for college, so we talk about volunteering, working and getting good grades,” said Simmons.
They also go over writing resumes and cover letters and other skills that help make a strong application. And they work on finding good scholarships to pay for it all.
The students who are just finishing the program this year have high praise for it.
“The regularity of our meetings helped me to accomplish my goals in a timely matter,” said Gese. “I felt like whenever I needed help with anything, be it personal or school-related, I could turn to Heidi and Kim. They worked hard to send me to NYU this summer and worked even harder to get me accepted.”
Marashi credited Next Step with helping him get job shadowing opportunities and volunteer opportunities.
“The Next Step Program has been pivotal in my success as a student and as an individual,” he said. “This program offers students helpful guidance, steady encouragement and a resource base that would not be available otherwise.”
Anyone interested in helping a student work toward a great college career is encouraged to contact Heidi Simmons at NextStepMHS@gmail.com.