Encouraging and enabling local students to ‘Go 4 College’

by Laura Smith, June 23, 2009

The Pendulum

For students at Cummings High School in Burlington, the dream of achieving a college education may not be far away.

Elon University was recently awarded a 2009 College Board Greenhouse Program Award that will fund its “Go 4 College” program in which Cummings students will visit Elon’s campus to experience college-access programs.

“Cummings High School has a lot of challenges and a higher percent of students are from low-income families with parents who haven’t gone to college,” said Deborah Long, Director of the Go 4 College program.

Long is also a professor of Education, Elon Academy Director, and Coordinator of Civic Engagement.

“Because they haven’t gone to college, they don’t know what their resources are,” Long said.  “A lot of this is about giving information for families who would love to see their children go to college but just don’t know the pathway to get there. It’s all about access.”

Through the program, students will visit Elon in groups, divided up by grade level six times next year (three times in the fall and three in the spring). They will participate in workshops that focus on college, go on tours and sit in on classes.

Workshops will include activities such as SAT prep, learning about the FAFSA, learning how to complete a college application and gaining an idea of the type of college the students would want to attend to suit their needs and interests.

The hope is students will see the college environment and be inspired to achieve the same level of education in the future.

The program’s proposal explains it with four E’s: Exposure (see it), Experience (try it), Encouragement (believe it) and Education (do it).

Cummings brought approximately 30 students from the A/B honor roll to Elon once before in fall 2008. Cummings paid for the bus ride and the lunch, but everything else was free of charge. Included was a tour of the campus, lunch at Collonades dining hall and classroom sit-ins..
”Professors just loved it,” Long said.

Cummings High School Assistant Principal Bonnie Roane agreed.

“It was a fantastic experience,” she said.  “The (Elon) students were just very welcoming.”
The program will be implemented this fall and was initiated after Long and Roane decided to propose the Go 4 College plan and obtain a grant for it.

“We’ve written several grants that haven’t been successful,” Long said.

But that changed when Long found the College Board Greenhouse Grant, which supports local projects that target disadvantaged or low-income students that focus on student academic development, professional development, guidance, assessment or financial aid services, according to its Web site.

Through a proposal and letters of support from President Leo Lambert and the Chamber of Commerce, Long and Roane won the $10,000 grant.

“We were very excited we got it,” Roane said.

“The main thing is money,” Long said. “$10,000 goes a long way.”

In 2006, Cummings was almost shut down as a result of low test scores. To save the school, new teachers and two new principles were hired, Cummings also joined with Elon in the Elon Academy program, which is a three-year college-access program for low-income local high school students who demonstrate academic promise and have little or no family history of college.

Today 58 percent of students take the SAT/ACT and the average scores are 434 in math, 407 in critical reading and 403 in writing. The average combined score is 1244 and the average ACT Composite score is 17.  Only 32 percent of graduating seniors go on to college.

In 2009, Elon established the Middle School College-Ready Corps (MSCC) in partnership with College For Every Student (CFES) and ABSS. The program is similar to Go 4 College in that it brings 70 sixth graders from all seven local middle schools to campus on a regular basis and provides programming for the students and their families.

Long and Roane are hoping this program will change the minds of many Cummings high school students who may believe they are unable to get a college education.

“Hopefully this will help our students realize they can do it,” Roane said. “This is something they’re not going to get anywhere else.”

Long said she is hoping that eventually the students will be able to visit Elon all four years of high school.

“I think it will have a big impact on a lot of students, just having them talk about it,” she said.

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