Graduate Tampa Bay: Parents-Led Initiative Helps Students Prepare For College

9 Feb

Published in 83 Degrees Media, 12.3.13

The college admissions process can be confusing, cumbersome and at times overwhelming for some high school juniors and seniors.

College application processes vary widely, with many requiring essays, letters of recommendation and lengthy forms, not to mention multiple deadlines and course requirements. Many students don’t even bother to apply for financial aid for fear they won’t qualify (in the 2012-13 academic year, just 43 percent of public high school seniors in Florida completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

Schools have College and Career Counselors, which are sometimes different than Guidance Counselors, to help students navigate this process. However, at some schools there is a critical shortage of these positions, leaving many students to fend for themselves.

“When students don’t have the resources to get into college and are left to their own devices, it doesn’t take much for them to get off track,” says Troy Miller, senior researcher and policy analyst for the Florida College Access Network (FCAN).

Introducing: The Cube

Parents at Robinson High School in South Tampa, which has one College and Career Counselor for 1,500 students, have stepped up to help fill this need.

“The Cube” (College Career Center, or C cubed), is a place where students can go for information such as career planning, college and financial aid applications and how to sign up for the SAT or ACT.

A group of 10 parents volunteer to work in the Cube in shifts of two or three hours, once per week. The trained volunteers have open-ended conversations, sometimes one-on-one but also in small groups. The focus is on impacting students based on their individual needs and goals. The volunteers served more than 150 students in 2012-13, the Cube’s first year of operation.

“It’s very rewarding,” says Meg Fernandez, Robinson High parent who helped start the initiative. “The kids are really receptive. They’re looking to do something great with their lives.”

Fernandez helped create the program at Robinson after starting a similar one at Plant High School in South Tampa a few years ago. Her inspiration came from her interest in vocational interests and background as a headhunter for 13 years. Having a daughter at Robinson also gave her access to the administration and other parents.

“I have a passion for this,” Fernandez says. “I really would love to see that people are able to self-actualize in their lives.”

Funding was provided by a parent-run foundation that raises funds for special projects within the school. Omnia Group donated furniture and supplies for the space. Employees from local construction companies Soleil and Sample Properties helped with the build out.

The Cube at Robinson is one program at just 10 schools statewide that recently won a Parent Involvement Award from the Florida Department of Education.

“We really just want to help those kids get there. It’s good for all of us when young people are successful,” says Fernandez.


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