East Detroit gets more kids signed up for financial aid

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published February 29, 2016

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EASTPOINTE — East Detroit High School has been running financial aid sessions to help educate students — and their parents — on how it works, what it can be used for, and how to apply for it.

East Detroit counselor Howard Weiner said the high school had been running a single-night session about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for well over a decade before expanding it to two nights a few years ago. Last year, the high school expanded the program again to three sessions, and this year’s third session concluded Feb. 10.

FAFSA is an initial form that can help students get grants, loans and other sources of financial assistance for post-high-school education.

Weiner said that includes major universities, trade schools, community colleges or cosmetology schools.

“We called it ‘FAFSA and Food,’” Weiner said. “We had three representatives from Baker College’s financial aid office come over and give a very brief overview of financial aid and the FAFSA, and then we moved the families — parents and students — into a computer lab, where they completed or started as much as they could of their FAFSA forms. They could submit them with the assistance of the financial aid people we had at the school.”

Pizza and pop was provided, he said, and while the event was only planned to run from 6:30 to 8 p.m., it ended up going an extra half-hour so that they could help as many people as possible. In total, about 30-40 people showed up to the program.

The first program took place Dec. 9 and was a general overview of financial aid and FAFSA, while the second session, on Jan. 20, went over the FAFSA form line-by-line to explain it all. Weiner said around 40 people showed up at each session, with the majority of people being new each time.

No additional nights are scheduled currently for the rest of the school year, though Weiner said the high school is making time each school day to give students a chance to work on their FAFSA and college applications, and the school is trying to find other ways to keep parents involved in the process.

The school also plans on having a raffle for students who get their FAFSA applications finished by early April, and though the prizes have not been finalized yet, Weiner said they will be for “very large” items like tablets.

“We have a big push to get kids to get their FAFSAs done, and we’re doing everything we can to get our student population, which tends to wait it out and wait until last minute,” he said. “We want them to understand, the longer they wait into the summer, there may not be very much money left for grants, work-study or loans. That money does eventually run out.”

Weiner said East Detroit has a lot of students who may simply not even think about it and miss out on federal money that they qualify for. And for parents who either have not gone to college or did not finish, that can make the whole process more frightening and serious for the students, as they lack that background. Weiner said that with these sessions, he is hoping to give those families the proper information and guidance so that their students can be prepared to succeed.

Superintendent Ryan McLeod praised the program as a way to help students and their families realize that they can afford to go to college, and learn about the financial assistance available to them.

“In today’s global economy, graduating from high school cannot be the endgame for our East Detroit students. There are very few careers available to our graduates that will not require some kind of post-secondary education,” McLeod said in an email. “With this in mind, East Detroit is growing a robust educational program to ensure that all of our students are career and college ready.”

Since the FAFSA application start date has moved up for the next school year — going from January to October — Weiner said East Detroit likely will tweak its own schedule for these sessions to match.

Weiner said students or parents who have questions or are seeking additional information and assistance can contact the East Detroit High School counseling office at (586) 533-3719; he also suggested getting in touch with the financial aid office at any college or university, though ideally whichever one the student is going to attend.

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