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College Summit marks decade of peak performance

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Megan Hannah Megan Hannah

Megan Hannah is the Community Engagement Coordinator for College Summit West Virginia.

College Summit, a national nonprofit that partners with educators, parents and community leaders to create a college-and-career-ready culture in high schools, is celebrating more than a decade of success in West Virginia this year. In 2001, through the vision and financial support of John and Julie Mork and the Energy Corporation of America Foundation, 10 students and two educators from Kanawha County high schools participated in a pilot program that explored the College Summit curriculum. Since 2004, College Summit has been partnering with high schools and colleges around the state to train rising seniors to serve as change agents, as well as training educators to implement college-and-career preparatory curriculum and online tools within their classrooms.

“We are so pleased to be celebrating a huge milestone for our organization this year,” College Summit Program Director Keri Ferro said. “Thanks to the continued financial support of the Morks and the ECA Foundation, as well as many other generous funders, we have served over 37,000 high school students in West Virginia. That's an incredible number of students in the mountain state that have participated in our program and have graduated from high school with the motivation and skills that they need to successfully execute a postsecondary plan.”

The hallmark feature of College Summit's program is its annual summer workshops each year at college campuses around the state. The four-day workshops, which cater to selected rising seniors from College Summit partner high schools, allow students the opportunity to develop an essay for college and scholarship applications, as well as explore possible postsecondary options based on their educational interests. Additionally, students learn about financial aid options while gaining self-advocacy skills and leadership training. Students leave the workshop equipped to serve as “Peer Leaders,” or postsecondary experts, in their high schools. Through these workshops, College Summit has not only had the opportunity to engage high school students, but the organization also has connected with more than 850 dedicated volunteers from around the state that serve in writing and college coaching roles.

This summer, College Summit hosted workshops at West Virginia Wesleyan College and West Virginia State University, engaging 124 rising seniors and nearly 40 volunteers. Among the volunteers this summer were 22 members of the Yale Alumni Service Corps. Through a partnership that began last summer, alumni and friends of Yale University have converged on West Virginia campuses for the four-day College Summit experience. This year, Yale graduates served as writing coaches to provide expertise on students' essays and also as college coaches to assist them in exploring best fit colleges and universities.

Outside the summer workshops, College Summit offers college-and-career readiness curriculum that is delivered year-round within the classroom. Educators receive training in order to implement the program and assist Peer Leaders in their efforts. The curriculum, and accompanying online tools, allow students to explore their options for life after high school, and offers the resources and tools to make postsecondary plans a reality. Since 2004, the program has seen 83 percent of College Summit students enroll in a college or university, with a persistence rate of 75 percent of those students enrolling for a second year. In 2014, 92 percent of all West Virginia seniors participating in a College Summit class completed a postsecondary application.

“During our College Summit class, I was able to research programs, colleges, and scholarships online,” said Brian Summers, a former Peer Leader and Buffalo High School graduate. “My College Summit teacher was also able to help answer questions about financial aid, admissions requirements and testing. The College Summit staff visited my high school frequently to check in with my class and make sure we, as Peer Leaders, were serving as leaders and able influence and help our peers with their plans for life after high school.”

In 2006, West Virginia served as a pilot among College Summit's 12 regions to test a curriculum for ninth-11th graders. This curriculum focuses on starting high school with a clean slate, accountability, dropout prevention and other obstacles that hinder underclassmen from reaching their full postsecondary potential. With the success of that pilot program in West Virginia, the underclass curriculum was rolled out to all College Summit regions in 2009, and it stands as one of the organization's most successful offerings in helping students understand the importance of attendance and early achievement, among other milestones, to reach their goals.

“We consider this our decade of peak performance,” Ferro concluded. “We are continuing to help our students reach for their highest goal, and then see beyond that. College Summit West Virginia has been a successful region based on goals and outcomes data.

“We don't just look for our students to graduate from high school. We look for them to make sound, informed decisions on what they plan to do after graduation, and we track them on their persistence in achieving those goals. It's truly a remarkable movement that we have seen in West Virginia over the past decade.”

College Summit is a 501(c)(3) national nonprofit and operates solely on fees for service from partner high schools and philanthropic gifts from individual and corporate givers. Additionally, a large portion of programming outside of high schools, including workshops, require local and statewide volunteers. To learn more about College Summit in West Virginia, make a gift, or register for volunteer opportunities, visit collegesummit.org/region/west-virginia.

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