Addition of college counselor position at Basalt High leads to increased college attendance |

Addition of college counselor position at Basalt High leads to increased college attendance

Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times

It’s easy for high school students to say they want to attend college, but getting on track to find, apply to and attend the right institution is a complicated process.

That’s a big reason why Basalt High School added two part-time college counselors to its staff at the beginning of the 2012-13 school year. Not only are more Basalt kids planning to attend college, but the school had four students earn major scholarships this year.

“It’s so important for every student to have some college guidance,” said Carolyn Williams, one of the two Basalt college counselors. “We’re here to help kids transition into the next phase of their life.”

Liz Penzel is the other part-time college counselor at Basalt High and will become the school’s full-time college counselor this fall. Williams is leaving her position to concentrate on her own college-counseling business.

“We look for schools that best fit our students,” Penzel said. “We look at the academic, social, cultural and financial aspects that work best for each individual. The financial part is paramount. We have a lot of financially needy students. Finding the right school that will allow them to flourish is critical.”

For the 2012-13 school year, the college counselors coordinated $207,000 in scholarship monies to Basalt students through local organizations. This year, that total jumped up to $354,000.

“That means our kids are doing a better job with their college interviews and applications,” Williams said. “We have some very talented kids in Basalt, but they need someone to help them unlock the system.”

The school also had four seniors receive major scholarships this year.

Kade Cheatham received a Gates Millennium Scholarship, a good-through-graduation scholarship that can be used to pursue a degree in any undergraduate major at the accredited college or university of his choice. Cheatham will attend Occidental College in Los Angeles.

Felipe Martinez received a Daniels Fund Scholarship, a regional scholarship awarded to students who display outstanding leadership and character. Martinez will attend the University of Denver.

Alexandra Revilla Serrano and Timothy Johnson earned Chick Evans Caddie Scholarships. The Chick Evans scholarships are awarded to students who demonstrated a strong caddie record and excellent academics and demonstrated financial need and outstanding character. The four-year scholarship is valued at more than $80,000.

Both Serrano and Johnson will attend the University of Colorado at Boulder.

A big help for many Basalt students has been the Colorado Asset Bill, which passed in 2013 and began this past school year. The bill allows undocumented students to attend a Colorado public college at in-state resident tuition rates.

The college-counselor position at Basalt High was made possible through a three-year grant from the Aspen Community Foundation as part of its Cradle to Career effort. Cradle to Career is a long-term initiative focused on increasing the number of local children who are ready for kindergarten and who graduate from high school prepared for college or a career.

The grant totaled $75,000 for 2012-13, $65,000 this past school year and $50,000 next year.

“Aspen Community Foundation is very proud to have supported the formation of a dedicated college/postsecondary counseling program at Basalt High School,” said Tamara Tormohlen, executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation. “The foundation has been very pleased with the reports from the counseling department at Basalt High School regarding increased college application and acceptance rates, improved average ACT scores and increased (aid-application) completion rates.”

When Basalt hired two half-time counselors for the 2012-13 school year, it became just the second school in the valley to have what equates to a full-time college-counselor position. Basalt also has a full-time guidance counselor.

Glenwood Springs High School has two full-time guidance counselors, and Roaring Fork High School has one. Those positions have to double as high school and college counselors. Aspen High School has two full-time college counselors and two full-time assistants.

“Our principal saw the importance of having a full-time college counselor, separate from a regular school counselor, to help our students with that transition,” Williams said. “It’s been exciting to see Basalt High school and our community pushing towards a college-going culture.”

Basalt Principal Dave Schmid agreed with the importance of changing the attitude about attending college and is passionate about making sure students have choices after high school.

“This year we had 88 percent of our graduates plan to attend college,” Schmid said. “That’s a significant increase from previous years. Our goal is 100 percent, and our college counselors are an essential piece of this process.”

The program’s grant runs through the 2014-15 school year. Schmid will be talking with the Aspen Community Foundation about future funding possibilities to keep the college-counselor position at Basalt.

“In my opinion, it’s not an option,” Schmid said. “We have to find funding to keep this position. The Aspen Community Foundation has been extremely supportive. If we don’t find resources there, we’ll have to get creative. Our counselors have done a fantastic job. I really want to build on this momentum.”

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