The Wood River Valley's residents run the gamut of people from billionaire movie producers living in custom homes with views of the mountains to multi-generation families crowded into trailers. At the upper end, there is a presumption that children will receive a good education, while at the lower end, many children grow up without the slightest expectation of continuing education beyond high school.
College For Every Student is a national, nonprofit organization committed to raising the academic aspirations and performance of under-served youth so that they, too, can prepare for, enter and succeed in college.
Missy Wilkins, director of mentoring for College For Every Student, was in the valley last week from Vermont to work with peer-mentoring groups at Wood River High School and at Bellevue Elementary School. She travels most of the school year working with the 132 schools that participate in the College for Every Student initiative.
"I start by training fifth graders to mentor the third graders," Wilkins said. "When you start early, you plant the seeds. Fifth graders are already seeing themselves as scholars, as potential college students. I love the way the kids are part of making the changes happen."
College for Every Student works in a three-way partnership with the Blaine County School District and the Lee Pesky Learning Center. David Holmes, executive director of the Lee Pesky Center, which has offices in Boise, Caldwell and Hailey, is one of the founding educators of College for Every Student.
The program at Wood River High School is facilitated by the Program to Assist Student Studies, for ninth, 10th and 11th graders.
"P.A.S.S. is designed to help students improve their achievements," said Edith Ilers, a teacher at Wood River High School and a participant in the College For Every Student initiative.
Ilers said the goal of College For Every Student is to ready students for college through three pathways—early exposure to the possibility of college, mentoring and "leadership through service," which includes mentoring younger students.
"We refer to the kids as scholars, and we expose them as early as we can to college as a realistic opportunity," Ilers said.
She said the school creates partnerships with colleges, which include sessions between students and admission councilors from College of Idaho and the University of Idaho.
Referring to the leadership-through-service program, Ilers said, "It's really important to see a purpose. It needs to connect for the students, and be from the ground up. That's what was so exciting about the mentor session we had last week. At the end they had long lists of things they wanted to do and big smiles. I think it will impact our school in numerous ways."
A new idea is to create a program for eighth graders as they transition into high school.
Wilkins believes the mentoring program empowers students.
"They discuss what being a mentor means," she said. "We talk about the qualities of someone in their life who has made a difference. And that's the definition of a mentor. I'm so excited to see what the kids come up with."
Wilkins said studies show that peer mentoring increases attendance and motivates kids to join more clubs and participate in extracurricular activities.
Since its beginning in Boston in 1983, College For Every Student has worked with 380 public schools to help thousands of under-served students in grades K-12 take steps toward college. During the past two years, 96 percent of high school seniors involved in the program have gone on to college.
Dana DuGan: firstname.lastname@example.org