October 23, 2007
By SHAWN HOPKINS - Bulletin Staff Writer
The recent University of Virginia graduates who are working as college guides in area high schools have an advantage when it comes to helping students prepare for tests and fill out financial aid and college application paperwork.
After all, it has not been long since they went through the same process themselves.
"There's only a couple of years that separate us," said Lucy Hart Peaden, a spring U.Va. graduate who is working as a guide at Patrick County High School.
Peaden is one of four guides working in Henry County, Martinsville and Patrick high schools this year. They are part of a U.Va.-sponsored program that places college guides in high schools across the state.
The guide at Martinsville High School and the two in the Henry County high schools are funded by the Harvest Foundation, and Peaden's position is funded by the Patrick County Education Foundation.
Peaden, who is from a rural town called Keysville in Charlotte County, said she is proud to help students who come from similar backgrounds. The guides program is designed to assist students in areas with low college attendance rates and many first-generation college students. Guides help students find and get into the right colleges for them.
Peaden said she had a lot of smart friends in high school who, for one reason or another, did not go to college. Now she gets a chance to work with students in a community similar to hers and help them plans for the future.
She has only been on the job for a couple of months, but so far she has helped with a college fair and helped students with essays and applications. She soon will be helping with financial aid applications, she said.
Leanna Blevins, associate director of the New College Institute (NCI), said the Harvest Foundation asked her to monitor the program to make sure it doesn't duplicate other services, such as a career coaches program at Patrick Henry Community College and outreach educators at NCI.
Blevins said the college guides work out of the high schools and supplement their guidance offices. Guidance counselors have other things on their plates besides college preparation, such as behavioral issues, Blevins said, but the college guides can narrow their efforts.
"The college guides, their sole focus is helping those high school students get from point A to point B. And point B is college," she said.
Simply dealing with all of the paperwork, deadlines and complex financial aid forms required in most college applications can be a "daunting" task for some families who have no college experience, she said.
This is the second year the guide program has existed in the area, Blevins said, and the third year since it was formed. All of the guides sign up for one- or two-year commitments. Only one guide, Vivian Uwanaka, who works at Martinsville High, is returning from last year.
The guides stay with local families during the time they are here, Blevins said, and it is important to try and make them feel at home and like they are part of the community.
To that end, the families are encouraged to invite the guides for dinner or church or other activities.
A dinner honoring the guides was held earlier this month. In addition to Peaden and Uwanaka, the guides include Michael Parisi, who works at Bassett High School, and Sachi Moreno, who works at Magna Vista High School.
During the dinner, Gladys Hairston, a Harvest Foundation employee, shared her experiences as a first-generation college student.
A few years ago, she said later, she and her sister, Glenda, were in the same position as a lot of local students. Members of their family had attended Patrick Henry Community College, but they were the first to go to a four-year school.
Hairston said she and her sister made good grades and ranked high in their classes, but they had not thought of going to a four-year college until she received prodding from the faculty at her school.
"But for some reason we just hadn't had college on our radar," Hairston said.
They had almost waited too late to apply, Hairston said, but school officials helped them get in.
"I had a lot of help from my guidance counselors and assistant principal at Magna Vista," she said.
She ended up majoring in history, and her sister majored in psychology, both at U.Va. It was an experience that they almost didn't get to have.
"It was a great four years," said Hairston, who graduated in 2004.
She said she thinks the college guides program is a good one because "they're there for kids who were like me," who are college material but might not know how to start the process or what to do.
Going to college is more important than ever, Hairston said, because the days when one could go straight from high school to a good, steady job are gone.
"Now we're at the point in our local economic situation where we need a little bit more than that," she said.
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