Guidance counselors and teachers at Thomson High School received good news this year. So good, in fact, that it rocked one teacher's world.
Thomson was one of four high schools in Georgia to receive a full-time college adviser through the National College Advising Corps. Thomson's adviser is Ashley Holmes, a recent graduate of the University of Georgia.
"I'm very pleased to have her here," Social studies teacher Diane Bolden said of Ms. Holmes. "We are flooded at the end of the year. And I heard students talking in my classroom, saying they needed this a long time ago. Everything they said was positive. To hear them talking like that just rocked my world."
The NCAC started approximately four years ago with $12 million in funding from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and additional support from the Lumina Foundation for Education. Currently serving students in approximately 12 states, the corps aims to increase the number of low-income, first-generation and underrepresented students entering and completing higher education, according to its Web site. The NCAC places recent graduates of partner institutions as college advisers in high schools to provide assistance and encouragement students need to navigate college admissions.
When flagship universities across the country applied to have the program in their state, 10 grants were awarded and Georgia was not one of them, said Sarah Katherine McNeil, the director of scholarships at the Watson-Brown Foundation, Inc. in Thomson. Ms. McNeil said she read about the program in The Augusta Chronicle . Consequently, the Watson-Brown Foundation approached the University of Georgia and offered to provide funding to get the program started in Georgia.
"So, we've provided the seed money for the program for four years," Ms. McNeil said. "It was a no-brainer because of the simplicity of the program and the good it does in the schools for the students. ... I'm giddy that this actually came into fruition within a year."
The success of the program relies in the model itself, said Ms. McNeil. All college advisers must be fresh out of college themselves and can hold their position for no longer than two years, so the high school students are able to relate to them. Ms. Holmes said she graduated from UGA this past May with a bachelor of arts in speech communications.
"All the students here (at THS) say 'yes ma'am' and I never heard that in my home in Atlanta," Ms. Holmes said. "It made me feel old at first, but now I'm getting used to it."
Ms. Holmes was one of the four UGA graduates selected for the program. The other three are working at high schools in Augusta, Athens and Gwinnett County.
Because she grew up in a suburb of Atlanta, Ms. Holmes said, she was disappointed when she first heard she was assigned to Thomson.
"I asked 'what's in Thomson?' and they said 'well, they have a Wal-Mart,' " she said with a laugh. "But it's very peaceful here, and everybody is really nice. Honestly, I probably got the best school of all the counselors. Thomson High gave me a nice office all to myself, and the Augusta girl just got a corner."
Every day, Ms. Holmes has a list of students and classes to talk to. She interviews them to find out their interests and dreams, what they'd like to major in, the type of college they'd like to attend and how they rank academically. Using this information, she recommends a couple of colleges and tells how to apply to them.
"Ideally, they'll come back and tell me how it's going. But, I know I'll have to check up on them," Ms. Holmes said, adding that the biggest challenge of her job is helping the students realize their potential.
"Thomson has really, really talented students. They just can't see beyond high school," she said. "It's time we put Thomson on the map. I just have to get them motivated to set goals and move forward."
Ms. McNeil said the national office tracks the data of each counselor and measures the results of the program for each partner institution -- in this case, UGA. The University of Georgia is actively fundraising to keep the program running after the WBF-funded grant ends in four years, and to expand it to more high schools within the state.
"Just think, maybe a Rotary Club or some similar group could sponsor an adviser," Ms. McNeil said.