EDGEWATER - Just because it's the first day of school doesn't mean Jefferson High School seniors shouldn't be thinking about their last day.
"We always meet with our seniors like the first two weeks of school," Nate Chamberlain, school counselor, said. "It's excitement. Let's talk about college. Let's talk about what could be."
Chamberlain works at Jefferson Junior/Senior High School and is part of an effort orchestrated by Joel Newton as executive director of a group called the Edgewater Collective.
"Being a member of the Edgewater community, we really a need a diverse workforce," Newton said.
But, the Edgewater Collective says that out of all the students that graduate and are ready for college from Jefferson, only about 30 percent of them actually go. Newton said a big obstacle is the paperwork and process to enroll in college and find financial aid.
"Just navigating the hoops to get into college is really hard," Newton said.
He says students and families are turned away by the FAFSA, the forms, the applications -- all the red tape.
"You have so much potential that is you know actually being wasted," senior Julian Salazar said.
Salazar and his classmates Paulina Serrano and Bryan Ascencio met with Chamberlain to talk about college on the first day of school.
"I'm scared even just thinking of just doing the paperwork to get into college," Serrano said.
Ascencio says the whole process is intimidating.
"Like applying for colleges and hopefully getting accepted into the one I want," Ascencio said.
Ninety percent of the families at Jefferson are on the federal free and/or reduced lunch program meaning that they have lower incomes. Chamberlain says most of these families are undereducated as well.
"Having 90 percent of our students as first-generation meaning when they go home, their parents, they're awesome and they're helpful, but they have no idea about college," Chamberlain said.
They have no idea, Serrano said, because they have no experience like her parents.
"They didn't go to college so how can they help me," Serrano said.
Newton is working with the school and partners in the community to teach teens how to go to college. The Edgewater Collective runs the Summer Bridge Program to show students how to apply for financial aid, scholarships, and enroll in classes. He wants to improve on that 30 percent.
"Our big audacious goal is to double that," Newton said.
Counselors are working with students who graduated last year. Newton hopes to see improved results soon.
"We'll see the effectiveness in September of how many of those students go to college and started attending," Newton said.
He hopes to improve that number to 100 percent.
"So, it's attainable," Newton said. "There shouldn't be a roadblock that destines these students to never go to college."
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