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Tiara FennellFAFSA season has settled, the snow has melted and most of the seniors are done with the college application process. So, now what? Well, now it is time to do underclassmen outreach. All year long I have been planning different events and presentations for the underclassmen at both of my schools and I’m so excited to implement them over the next couple of months.

Of course, the juniors take priority this time of year because their senior year is quickly approaching. At Roanoke Valley Early College, I have been holding student and parent conferences with my juniors to discuss how to prepare for senior year and to work with parents on an overview of the entire college application process. At Weldon High School, I have been able to do multiple classroom presentations, including one where I spoke with my juniors about the importance of the ACT they took on March 6. My goal was to help juniors develop a sense of how that test can help them when they apply to college next year.

Ms. Fennell with her students on a campus tour to UNC Greensboro and NC A&T University earlier this year.

The freshmen and sophomores have been a little more difficult to reach due to the inclement weather we had earlier this semester, but with the help of my on-site facilitators and administration, we have been able to spend time with our younger students. I continued to have student and parent meetings with all grade levels, which gave parents and students the chance to ask any questions they had. What I loved about these meetings was having the opportunity to meet the parents of my wonderful students and to ease some concerns about how to pay for tests, how to approach essay writing, and what can be done as a family to help maximize the student’s success, not only in high school, but when applying to college. I have also planned a trip for the freshmen class at Weldon High School to visit NC State University. As freshmen in high school, it can be hard to see the point of doing well in school and it can be difficult to be motivated. The purpose of this trip is to connect these freshmen with college students that have similar backgrounds as them; specifically, I am connecting my underclassmen with African American students at NC State University. These students are excellent examples for my ninth graders: they are in touch with their heritage and have a strong passion for their education, so they can help my young students see that there is a place for them in college and they can make it there, just like these older students did.

Another wonderful initiative that has been going on in my school lately has been the “Tools for Change” research project, a partnership with Dr. Bill Tobin of Duke University. Dr. Tobin’s work is focused on collaborations that provide high quality inclusive educational environments for students, as well as improving college access and success for students in North Carolina. The Tools for Change project allows students the opportunity to do research on social problems within their community and to present their findings to government officials, with the goal of sparking change. This program has been great for the kids because they get to experience what it is like to use different research databases like JSTOR, create and analyze their own surveys, and use the results of those surveys to inform the outcomes of their project. The students have been enjoying this experience so far because they feel as though they are taking initiative to make positive changes in their community and to become more active citizens.

I believe the key to working with the underclassmen is to make sure I am piquing their interest about college. It is critical to show young students that there is a place for them at an institution of higher learning; to instill in students that they will have opportunities for success no matter who they are or where they come from. Creating partnerships with local colleges, building unique programming that focuses on the best parts about college, and being open about my own college experiences has been a formula that has worked well for me.  The students really appreciate the transparency and I can the see the motivation that it gives them to do better for themselves. Doing those little things and reminding your students that you see the potential in them can inspire them to stay motivated and reach their college goals!

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