By ROCHELLE FARRIS

Funding a vocational or college education is not a cheap venture for students and their families. The path seems daunting for many and often there is confusion in the application, scholarship and financial aid process.

In the past, parents and students may have felt alone in navigating this important path. McNary High School recognized the importance of having this kind of support for our students. This year families have a resource available to them to answer questions and minimize the confusion and complexities of the college application and scholarship process while supporting students by helping them become both college- and career-ready.

The McNary High School College and Career Center opened this year in October. Since that time, I have had the privilege of walking alongside our students and families helping them navigate the pathway opportunities available to them after high school. I get to meet with students one-on-one and in classroom settings, while also providing evening events and college and career presentations throughout the year.

The College and Career Center is open to students during our school day, before school on Mondays and after school Tuesday—Friday. I have worked tirelessly to provide information to our students about local scholarships available in our community while also informing them of the larger state and national scholarship options. I also have provided workshops throughout this academic year on college and scholarship organizations and “How to Write Scholarship Essays That Get Noticed.”

Students at McNary get many opportunities to hear presentations from local career professionals who are invited to present about the fields they work in. This year we have had health care professionals, business owners, software engineers and many others present. This gives students the ability to explore career options and get questions answered about a particular field of interest.

The College and Career Center has its own webpage (mcnary.salkeiz.k12.or.us/activities/college-career-ready/)  within the McNary High School website that provides great information for our students and their parents.

Recognizing not all students will choose to attend college after high school, there are many opportunities for students that do not include post-secondary education.  I also act as a resource to these students. Exploring career opportunities through apprenticeship, military or on-the-job training opportunities that will also lead to successful careers. Our College and Career Center also provides resources for students looking for part-time jobs and community service opportunities. Building resumes, writing cover letters and preparing for interviews are also areas that I get to support.

While I realize it takes time to build awareness of McNary’s College and Career Center offerings, I have been working diligently to get the information out to our students and families. The benefits and results of the College and Career Center have been significant even after only being open for six months. McNary High School has already increased the rates of students applying for the Free Application for Federal student Aid (FAFSA). Last year at the end of the school year (June 2016) there was a total of 192 students who had completed the FAFSA. Currently, in April, we have 227 that have completed applications and I continue to follow-up with seniors who may need additional help finishing their applications. In addition, we have one student at McNary who recently accepted her Act Six Scholarship which is a full-tuition, full-need community leadership award to attend Warner Pacific University for all four years.  We also are excited to have our first Ford Family Foundation finalist who will be interviewing in May for a scholarship that pays 90 percent of the cost of attendance to any college in Oregon for all years he attends post-secondary education. Scholarship awards keep coming in and we are excited to get to celebrate with our senior students.

Additionally, McNary High School is working toward becoming the first AVID Demonstration High School in Oregon. I coordinate with AVID teachers who are dedicated to the successful implementation of the AVID College Readiness System. Freshman through Seniors learn about college preparation, which includes researching post-secondary academic programs, applying to colleges, and completing financial aid and scholarship applications. This year McNary AVID seniors have already received nearly $500,000 in scholarship awards.

The College and Career Center will hold an event Tuesday, April 25 at 6:30 p.m.: Junior Jumpstart, is a college planning event for current juniors and their parents to get some helpful step-by-step college information to help prepare for your senior year. Preparation is the key.

During this event attendees will receive helpful hints on ACT/SAT testing, completing college and scholarship applications and understanding the financial aid process. NCAA athletic eligibility information will also be presented in an additional presentation at 7:30 p.m. for those interested.

(Rochelle Farris is the coordinator of the College and Career Center at Keizer’s McNary High School.)