You can help local students navigate their future

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Guest commentary

My parents agreed that leaving Colombia for the Unkited States was the best chance for my brother and me to have a great future, so they left their home for a country with different customs and language, all to see us succeed here in Naples. At Golden Gate High School, I took AP and honors classes, as I was determined to excel academically and go to college.

Although I knew I would attend college and that there was help available to ease the financial burden of higher education, I felt overwhelmed as I applied to colleges, searched for scholarships and filled out lengthy and complicated financial aid forms during my senior year. My parents supported and helped me in any way they could, but with their limited English, they did not understand the college and scholarship application process. I had to learn it on my own, with the limited resources available. Fortunately, I found school counselors and teachers willing to invest in my success.

I attended Northwestern University and graduated last December with a bachelor’s degree in social policy. I received the Gates Millennium Scholarship, which paid for a large portion of my education. Also, by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), I received a generous financial aid package from my university, which combined federal and institutional aid.

I was very blessed to find people willing to help me achieve my goals, but it was haphazard, and there were missed opportunities. The guidance around college and career preparation occurred mostly over my last year of high school, as I rushed to submit applications and meet deadlines. Although I benefitted from help in my senior year, preparation for college should ideally begin in freshman year and continue through high school, where students can meet their goals gradually as their postsecondary plans develop. However, with a current ratio of 400 students to one guidance counselor, it is difficult to sustain a formal structure to guide students through college and career preparation.

Resources that help students identify and accomplish a postsecondary plan are vital to their success. Community members have a unique opportunity to help students make their dreams a reality as coaches and volunteers for College Goal Sunday. You don’t need to be experts in college, a particular career or academics for you have invaluable life experience that can help students overcome barriers and navigate this daunting process.

As part of a new Real World Learning Model at Golden Gate High School, there are currently two volunteer opportunities with a targeted time commitment. As a coach, you will meet with seniors in small groups for a midyear check by reviewing the senior checklist, helping them assess their progress in achieving their post-high school plans, and providing them resources around financial aid and FAFSA. As a College Goal Sunday volunteer, you will help families fill out a FAFSA form, the first step to being considered for federal and institutional financial aid. All volunteers and coaches will receive training.

Please get involved to help students achieve their goals. Education is the best avenue to success. To learn more about these volunteer opportunities, please visit: or call: 239-643-4755.

Santamaria, a 2009 graduate of Golden Gate High School, works for The Education Foundation—Champions For Learning as the college and career site coordinator embedded at Golden Gate High.

© 2013 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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