Sep 6, 2012 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff WriterAaron Taylor's goal this year at Riverton High School is to ensure that every graduating senior fills out an application for continuing education after graduation.
"It's not necessarily that they have to go," the RHS college advisor said in August. "But when it comes time for graduation, they'll have that option."
Taylor plans to meet with every RHS senior this year to discuss their plans after graduation. Whether they consider community college, trade school or the university level, Taylor said it's important for students to think about higher education -- even if they believe they can get a job without a degree.
"You can graduate high school and get a job in the oil field, sure," Taylor said. "But maybe if you go to college, get a degree in welding, then get in the field, more opportunities will open up for you."
A degree can help an employee stand out and could lead to career advancement, Taylor said. And during a recession people with degrees are more likely to find work. But despite the benefits, Taylor said obstacles can keep many Riverton students from going to college: Perhaps they are the first in their family to graduate high school, or they don't know whether they can afford tuition.
A major stumbling block Taylor hopes to address has to do with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The form, which
students must complete in order to receive any federal financial assistance, often can be a source of confusion for families.
"People just don't know what it is," Taylor said. "They're just really blown away by it."
He has plans for a FAFSA night this year at RHS, during which parents and students can fill out the form and submit it online with help from school staff. Taylor also is available on a daily basis to counsel students who may be worried about their grades and class credits.
"My goal is to let them know college is an opportunity -- you can pass, and you can afford it," Taylor said.
Assistant principal John Griffith said Taylor's present at RHS has been "absolutely fantastic." The Newscastle native and 2011 University of Wyoming graduate is stationed in Riverton through the three-year UW College Access Challenge Grant.
"I would see his position as almost a necessity for a school of our size," Griffith said. "He's had the opportunity to help a lot of kids."
The school already employs counselors and social workers who often coach students to go to college, and speakers often visit RHS to promote post-secondary education. But Griffith said Taylor will provide a more consistent presence for students, working one-on-one with individuals to answer questions about scholarships, applications and what to expect if they choose to go to college.
"It's a tough decision to make," Griffith said. "But if there's a 5-10 percent chance they might want to go to college, they should at least try it. ... Fill out one application, get accepted to one place. They don't have to go, but we at least want the door open to them."
Making a difference
With his first school-year at RHS behind him, Taylor said he already feels he has made an impact on the high school community: At graduation last year, he said he identified 10-20 students who had decided to go to college or trade school based on his guidance.
"That's been the most rewarding part," Taylor said. "As a professional it's cool to have the kids come up, shake your hand and say, 'Thanks for getting me there, you helped out a ton.'"
Based on a student survey, Griffith said 31 percent of Riverton's graduating class planned to attend a four-year college after high school in 2012, and 50 percent of students were going to a two-year college. In contrast, 27 percent were set to work full time, with 35 percent signed up for part-time work.
In 2011, 23 percent of seniors said they were going to a four-year college, and 58 percent planned to attend a two-year college. Five percent were going to a vocational or technical school, while 28 percent wanted to work full time. Almost 20 percent were planning to work part-time, 2 percent were entering an apprenticeship, and 5 percent wanted to sign up for the military.
Taylor plans to begin work with younger high school students and Riverton middle schoolers next year in an effort to get them thinking about college as soon as possible.
"It's never too early to start," Taylor said, requesting motivational help from local parents. "Remind your kids to go swing in and see Mr. Taylor for a bit."
Community members can provide a push for education as well, Taylor said. He invited involvement from local businesses and civic organizations willing to help Riverton students get to college by funding campus visits or providing food for a FAFSA night, for example.
To contact Taylor, call RHS at 856-9491. For more information about the UW College Access Challenge Grant visit wyo4ed.org.
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