Go the Distance

Cove Herald/Joshua Winata - Senior Jackie Flores, 17, helps classmates sign up for financial aid at the Go Center at Copperas Cove High School on Thursday.

By Joshua Winata

Cove Herald

It’s the final year of high school for the seniors at Copperas Cove, and students who haven’t been struck yet by lethargy-inducing “senioritis” probably still have plenty on their proverbial plates to worry about before graduation.

Between final exams, Advanced Placement tests, extracurricular activities, school dances, end-of-year parties and after-school jobs, there’s so much to do before high school ends that planning for what happens next sometimes gets lost in the mix.

To help students make it to the next round — college — Copperas Cove High School has created the Go Center to assist seniors in applying for financial aid and scholarships and discovering their career choice.

“There seems to be a barrier sometimes with students saying they want to go to college, but they never get there. A lot of times that’s because they don’t know how to fill out an application because we don’t do that in our classrooms” said Karen Denney, career and technical education coordinator with the high school career center. “Or they can’t afford it. Can they get financial aid? Well, that’s a big endeavor in itself, just trying to figure out how to apply for financial aid and all the scholarship opportunities that are out there that go unclaimed.

“Our push and the difference we’re going to try to make this year is more to get them over that hurdle so they can actually get to college.”

The Go Center is an initiative created by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board based on years of research of best practices from school districts, institutions of higher learning and the community. It’s a way for students to learn more about college and career choices and access information on higher education not readily available in a classroom setting.

Leading the way at Copperas Cove High School is the aptly named Teen Leaders class, taught by Esperanza Traino. In November, students of the course visited Waco University High School, which has a highly successful Go Center already in place, to receive training and see how the program works.

The Go Center provides students with and array of different resources and reminders. The BRIDGES program, for instance, helps students identify possible career options based on their interests and values. Seniors also receive checklists with testing dates and lists of Web sites where they can find scholarships and advice on applying and paying for college.

Once students have received the necessary passwords and information, they can continue the application process from any computer although they are welcome to return to the Go Center if they have any additional questions or need Internet access, Traino said.

This month, every Cove senior visited the Go Center at least once during class time, and Teen Leaders helped their peers in signing up for a personal identification number, which is necessary to begin a Free Application for Federal Student Aid. While the FAFSA does not begin accepting applications until Jan. 1 of the new year, adequate time must be allotted for PINs to be emailed or mailed to the students’ residence.

“A lot of seniors tend to start late. You need to start early, and you need to get it done because a lot of college deadlines are sooner,” Teen Leader senior Vanessa Vasquez, 17, said. “In the beginning of the year, they (seniors) are not really worried, but they do need to be worried about that because they’ll miss a lot of cutoffs that way, and they cheat themselves out of scholarships.”

According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, about $4 billion is available every year to help Texans pay for college.

Vasquez said she has already requested a PIN for FAFSA, and she is in the process of completing her college applications on ApplyTexas.com, the Texas common application that is submitted to multiple public state universities. She hopes to receive a softball scholarship and study sports broadcasting.

Having students assisting their classmates is one of the program’s keys to success. In the past, Go Centers at other schools have been sponsored or managed by counselors, community groups and institutions of higher education. However, peer to peer advising has proved to be the most effective by providing an empathetic touch that makes the college application process less intimidating and approachable.

AmeriCorps staff member Melissa Henderson, a college student who recently completed the financial aid process, will be also be providing support at the Go Center during lunch periods.

“The most successful Go Centers in the state are ones in which students have taken ownership,” said Mito Espinoza, Go Center field specialist with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

“I think a lot of kids don’t really know what they want to do, and with us helping them, they can get a little more of an idea because some of us running the Go Center are having an issue with what we want to do ourselves,” Teen Leader senior Jackie Flores, 17, added. “We’re not sure yet, it’s our senior year, we’re a little scared, but a lot of us know now that we’ve been to the Go Center. It helps a lot.”

Flores said that in college she plans on pursuing psychology, a field she discovered through the BRIDGES program.

According to Espinosa, the three main obstacles that keep students from reaching college are lack of information, financial barriers and lack of overall planning.

“The cost of college is so high. It becomes a daunting thing where students don’t believe they could ever survive or get enough money for college,” Espinosa said.

On top of that students must keep track of multiple forms and deadlines. For instance, financial aid applications start eight months before college begins, and scholarship applications and tests must be completed a year or more ahead of time.

“For so many students to go from elementary school to middle school and middle school to high school, there is no transition period between that. And when they go to college, they just walk into a college campus and think, ‘Oh, I’ll just go to college,’” Espinosa said. “They’re more focused on graduating high school. They don’t really understand they should already be looking.”

The Go Center opened on Nov. 30 and is available to Copperas Cove High School students during tutorial and lunch periods and after school in Traino’s classroom, room 341. The facilities will remain open to all grade levels throughout the school year.

Contact Joshua Winata at jpwinata@kdhnews.com or call (254) 547-6481

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