‘Reach Higher’ grant helps Avondale Academy students prepare for college

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published September 7, 2016

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ROCHESTER HILLS  — Avondale Academy, the Avondale School District’s alternative high school, is one of 100 high schools across the state that will receive a portion of more than $500,000 in grants to be awarded this year as part of the Michigan College Access Network’s “Reach Higher” program.

Brandy Johnson, executive director of the Michigan College Access Network, said the Reach Higher grants are geared toward creating a college-going culture inside high schools to increase the number of students furthering their education.

“Last year was the first year for Reach Higher grants, and they created the push we needed to help develop these goals inside Michigan high schools,” Johnson said in a statement. “We have seen how these grants positively impact students’ decisions to go on to higher education, which is why we will continue with this successful program.”

Each chosen school, including Avondale Academy, will receive a $5,000 grant this year to help students pursue post-secondary education.

Avondale Academy Principal Taylor Chapman said this is the second year the school will receive a grant as part of the program.

“Essentially, the grant is to get students more aware of college and college opportunity, and basically that it doesn’t matter what your background is or where you came from or whether or not your parents ever went to college — college is a reality. We try to lay that groundwork using those funds that we got through that grant to make that happen,” he said.

Last year, as part of the program, the school organized a committee to take charge of the program and conducted a number of surveys on the college readiness level of its students.

Avondale Academy also held a college application week for seniors, to spread awareness of college and encourage students to apply to at least one college.

“A lot of times, kids don’t apply to college simply because they just don’t think they are going to get accepted — that is not the case. There are plenty of options out there, regardless of what your GPA is, or regardless of your course of study, or how well you are doing,” Chapman said.

The school gave incentives out to seniors who filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and also held a special college decision day ceremony for seniors to celebrate their acceptance letters.

“This past year, we had the highest amount of students applying for financial aid that we have had ever. I don’t know the exact percentage, but I want to say it was somewhere between 60 and 80 percent from my school individually, which is pretty high, considering the prior year we were like 40 percent,” Chapman said.

This year, Chapman plans to use the grant to focus on making sure students are college-minded throughout their high school careers.

“We are going to do a freshman new students orientation where, right from the get-go of their high school experience, the college-minded way of looking at things is going to be at the forefront,” he explained.

Michigan College Access Network officials said high schools were selected based on a competitive grant review process.

“These schools play an important role in making college readiness, participation and completion within their community possible through the Reach Higher program,” Johnson said in a statement.

Schools receiving the Reach Higher grants, according to MCAN, will address four essential elements of a high school strategy aimed at getting more students to attend college — including establishing a Postsecondary Advisory Council to lead the college access strategy; conducting a Reach Higher high school self-assessment to track the current effectiveness of college and career readiness counseling, support and programming; planning and hosting college access events for seniors, including College Application Week in the fall, College Cash Campaign in the winter and College Decision Day in the spring; and evaluating the school’s college-going culture using a research-based survey.

Chapman said the overall message of the grant program is something that the school plans to continue to work on, even after the grant program has ended.

“Education is important and college is important, and it is something that is attainable,” he said.