Hopes and dreams for a better future
Partnership improves college-going culture
by Dottie Barnes
photos by Jess Weal
Going to college was off the table for 18-year-old Anthony Martell.
The Godwin Heights High School senior got married in October, a month before his son was born.
“It’s been hard,” Martell said, as he stared at the ground for a few moments. “My first thought was to drop out.”
But, while Martell described how difficult it has been juggling his parental responsibilities and getting homework done, he described, with a smile, how excited he is about continuing his education beyond high school.
“I changed my mind,” said Martell. “I’m going to graduate and continue with school. The whole reason I’m trying so hard is because of Mr. Bissett and his constant encouragement.”
Mr. Bissett is Jeremy Bissett, a Grand Valley graduate student who is studying school counseling. He is spending the 2016-2017 school year working alongside counselors at Godwin Heights, meeting with seniors about their college plans.
“Many of these students worry about being on their own, leaving their families or dealing with the financial burden of college,” Bissett explained. “I assure them they can take control of the situation and their futures. I want students to feel more comfortable as they transition from high school to becoming young, independent adults.”
Bissett said 85 percent of students at Godwin Heights qualify for the free or reduced lunch program and most would be first-generation college students. Bissett helped Martell fill out college applications and apply for financial aid, scholarships and grants.
He has done the same for dozens of other students.
Graduate student Jeremy Bissett, right, talks with high school senior Anthony Martell about his future education.
Bissett’s position was made possible through a unique partnership among Grand Valley’s College of Education and The Graduate School with Michigan College Access Network (MCAN) and two local districts. The goal is to increase the number of students pursuing postsecondary education.
The partnership places two College of Education graduate students in local high schools to serve as college advisors. They help seniors apply for two- and four-year colleges, trade schools, certificate programs and other credential-granting programs.
“This partnership addresses a conversation underway in our state about workforce talent and development,” said Shawn Bultsma, associate professor of school counseling. “As employment needs shift to areas like technology, energy and natural resources, we want to make sure we have the talent in our state to meet those needs.”
Te’Asia Martin, a graduate student studying college student affairs leadership, holds the other college advising position, which is at Kelloggsville High School.
Like Bissett, Martin gives one-on-one assistance to students, helping them send transcripts, fill out forms and make plans for their futures.
“I simply ask each student, ‘What do you want for your life and how committed are you to getting there?’” said Martin. “If these students tell me they want to become a doctor or a nurse, I help them craft their route to their destination. I don’t tell them what to do, but instead, I affirm their goals and desires.
“That way, it’s their own path, and they can stay committed to the future that they want.”
Taelor Bennett, a senior at Kelloggsville High School, said she’s never really been fond of school.
Godwin Heights High School: 2016
• 87% of the senior class had applied to at least one postsecondary program
In a class of 117 students:
• 346 applications had been submitted to in-state and out-of-state postsecondary institutions and programs
• 244 acceptance letters had been received
• 79% of the senior class had been accepted to at least one program
Graduate student Te’Asia Martin, left, discusses college options with high school senior Taelor Bennett.
“I didn’t really think about college because I’m not really smart,” said Bennett. “Miss Martin encouraged me to write out my plans for the year and for after high school. I could study more and get a tutor. Thinking about that made me feel good.”
Bennett, a two-sport athlete, said she stops to see Martin for advice nearly every day. Bennett said her SAT score was much higher than she thought it would be and she has been accepted to a local two-year college.
“Miss Martin had me write out what I am interested in,” said Bennett. “I’m thinking about being a sports trainer or a homicide detective.”
Martin and Bissett are keeping track of their efforts with each student. While the partnership with Kelloggsville is new, counselor Chad Morrow said it has been extremely helpful to have an additional person who has the know-how to help students fill out various college forms.
At Godwin Heights, data shows the partnership is making a positive impact.
As of April, 87 percent of the senior class at Godwin Heights had applied to at least one postsecondary program, and 79 percent of the class had been accepted to at least one program.
In a class of 117 students, a total of 346 applications had been submitted to various in-state and out-of-state postsecondary institutions and programs, and 244 acceptance letters had been received.
Bultsma said the partnership helps districts where counselors and budgets are being stretched.
“High school counselors have a lot of responsibilities; our graduate students have one focus — college advising,” said Bultsma. “They can meet one-on-one with seniors and direct students with more complicated needs to the counselors. Everyone wins.”
This partnership is just one of the statewide initiatives sponsored by MCAN with a goal of increasing the proportion of Michigan residents with postsecondary degrees or credentials to 60 percent by 2025.
“We need our students to dream and have hope for a better future,” said Martin. “It is their hopes and dreams that make our communities, states and nation the place that it is.”
Bissett said he is encouraged by the number of students like Martell who have shifted their thoughts about college from “I don’t know” to “Yes, I’ll go.”
Bissett connects with Martell several times a week to talk about Martell’s talents and dreams, which include playing baseball and music. Martell said Bissett is helping him stay on track.
“I might be a music major, and I’m also good at mechanics,” said Martell. “I want to be a good example for my son. He will grow up and see that his mom and dad went to college so that he could have a better future.”