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This Bootcamp Strengthens College Chances

With his mother at home and his father back in Guatemala, Oliver Lorenzo is grateful he’ll be the first in his family to graduate from high school and attend college. But he’s only able to afford his first year at Davenport University, he says, because of guidance from a counselor at Godfrey-Lee Middle/High School.

“If I wouldn’t have had it, I would have missed out on the opportunities of getting help,” said Oliver, who’s relying on grants, scholarships and the Michigan Tuition Incentive Program, as well as $4,000 he’s saved. He’ll live with his mother while going to school.

“I see the struggle she faces every day,” he said quietly. “I just want to continue to be that support for her,” and make his parents “proud that all the sacrifices they made are paying off.”

His is the kind of success story officials are trying to replicate in Godfrey-Lee, by linking students early on with the counseling and resources they need to enroll and do well in college. The district recently held its inaugural “Rebel College Bootcamp” to help students nail down the financial aid they need, as well as navigate the other requirements of enrolling in college this fall.

In a low-income district where many students are first in their families to attend college, the process can be overwhelming, said Superintendent Dave Britten. All too often students who’ve been accepted don’t enroll because they haven’t filed required forms or gotten the help that’s available, he said.

“You start to hear in August, ‘I’m going to wait and go in January,’ because they didn’t meet a deadline,” Britten said, adding sometimes students end up not going at all. “The biggest thing I wanted out of this is that they felt comfortable, and know if they run into something and they don’t get it, don’t’ be afraid to ask. There’s all kinds of help.”

Michelle Shepardson, left, and her mother, Julanne, go over Michelle’s financial-aid package with teacher Gabe Snyder

‘We Don’t Want to Lose These Kids’

Many need help with things like the FAFSA financial aid forms, because their parents struggle financially and don’t have college experience, Britten and others said. Most district graduates are accepted to college, but fewer than half end up attending — often because they need to work and don’t know the aid that’s available.

“Most all the time, the money is there but they don’t understand it,” said Kathryn Curry, Lee Middle/High School principal. “The myth is out there that you can’t go, it costs too much, when it’s just the opposite – the less you have, the more resources are provided.”

The recent event in the school media center aimed to help about a dozen students who showed up for pizza and guidance from counselors and teachers, along with handouts on studying and scheduling. Two representatives of Grand Rapids Community College also were on hand.

“The myth is out there that you can’t go, it costs too much, when it’s just the opposite – the less you have, the more resources are provided.” — Kathryn Curry, Lee Middle/High School principal

Teachers Gabe and Jodi Snyder went online to show Michelle Shepardson her financial aid package and what she still owed Michigan State University beyond that – close to $5,000. They discussed options such as work-study. Gabe advised her, “You have got to show up on campus and talk to someone” – which she and her mother decided to do the next day.

Michelle didn’t relish paying more out of pocket than she’d planned, or taking out thousands of dollars in loans.

“It scares me, because there’s always interest,” said Michelle, who will major in hospitality business. “It’s like, ‘Here’s $4,000, but you’ve got to pay 12.’”

Many students contact teachers at the last minute to fill out forms, said Jodi Snyder, who helped organize the event: “We always have a few that just don’t make it into college, because they didn’t have anyone to talk to.”

“We don’t want to lose these kids,” she added. “It’s not fair to them just because they don’t know who to ask for help. We need to help them find a way, whatever it is.”

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers Rockford and Grand Rapids. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio or email Charles.

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