I think the most interesting part (so far) of being a NiswongerCARE Advisor is thinking back at how scared and nervous I was during my training, but then walking into my schools and being embraced with open arms. This opportunity has been the biggest blessing. During my first week at one of my schools, I was given access to a classroom for a full day of presentations. It was exciting to know that I was making a difference and I could see it by the end of the day. I have had a lot of success in different ways. At Clinch, we have 100% TN Promise application completion rate. At Volunteer, I have seen over 100 students and many have them have returned to ask questions- which is awesome! At Morristown West, it has felt like I am coming home. I'm from the area so knowing I am making a difference in my hometown means all the world to me. The thing I love most about my three schools is that each has a personality of their own. I have built some wonderful relationships with my counselors and appreciate them for guiding me along the way. This experience has been so rewarding already and I can't wait to see what exciting things are around the corner with upcoming Path to College events!
I graduated from Hancock County High School in 2006 as Valedictorian. Being the top of my class did very little to foster a sense of school or community pride. I wanted to get out of HCHS and out of Sneedville to move on to the bigger world and to a “more cultured” environment. But something happened the longer I was away from home. There was loss of family and friends through various methods that life serves up to us. And with that loss came an appreciation and a nostalgia for the small town community I had spent the first chapter of my life trying so hard to escape.
Sneedville and specifically my parents’ home became a safe haven from the stress and the pressures that come along with working through higher education. The more time that distanced me from my high school career, the more I longed for a way to return to my past. I looked for opportunities to return home. Any family gathering, community event, holiday, every special occasion I took the chance to return home to see my people, my mountains, my trees, and my clear skies full of twinkling stars unblocked by city lights. But as many people come to find out, in education time is sparse and sometimes educations to step away are few and far between.
A chance encounter in a classroom with a presentation by the director of the NiswongerCARE program changed this. There it was, Sneedville, on a PowerPoint, with statistics about college going and success rate. Someone was reaching out to the students trying to better themselves. Someone was working with the students walking the same halls and sitting in the same classrooms that I had been 10 years prior. And then I was given an opportunity for that someone to be me. I jumped at the opportunity and everything that it meant.
I came home in a new role ready to share my experiences and advice about making the transition out of the small town, and they would listen because I had been a part of both worlds. I was welcomed in a way that I had never been before. I was welcomed by students, teachers, parents, and administrators. Everyone was able to sense that I was no longer a student trying so hard to escape, but that I was a young professional trying to give back and join back into the community that had grown to have a special place in my life and in my heart. And the most amazing thing was that I was able to help change lives. Parents were able to have someone to go to throughout the college application process. I feel I made the transition easier for the families of first-generation students to send their child off to better opportunities.
The school would assist me in any way possible because I had been one of those students and now I was sharing that same chance with others. And looking at familiar faces of teachers, faculty, and students that had been in my cohort graduating, I really learned that the people living and working in these communities were not the ones that “never made it out” as I had thought so long ago, but were instead those that had gone out, worked toward something to give back to their community, and had come home to the mountains and to the Hancock County people that we had always taken with us in our hearts.
The most exciting part of working at Unaka High School, so far, has been seeing the students be genuinely interested in pursuing their post-secondary options. For example, there are about eighty seniors at Unaka and during College App Week, there were fifty students in the East Tennessee State University informational session. That is over half of our seniors interested in learning more about college. And because of this session, many students began their application process to East Tennessee State. The counselor, Mrs. McGinnis, has worked hard to make sure these students know and have access to their options. It is inspiring to see them embrace these opportunities.
At Greeneville High School, we decided to make a wall outside the counseling office devoted to College Application Week, which was September 26- September 30th. During that week, students were encouraged to apply to college (community colleges, TCAT’s, or universities) during their vocational time. Vocational time is allotted during the week for students to apply to college, sign up for the ACT, complete scholarships, etc. and doesn’t interfere with their regular class schedules. Once students applied during that week, they were invited to come to the counseling office and report the anticipated institution they applied to and plan to attend in fall 2017. Student workers made homemade banners listing each senior's name and where they had applied, and placed them on the wall. Excitement grew around the wall, which was encouraging and competitive for the seniors. It also motivated students to apply to college during College App Week and ask for assistance surrounding the college-going process.
I wanted to take this opportunity to brag on one of my schools and their participation in College App Week. Johnson County High School exceeded expectations by not only utilizing their resources within the school, but also reached out to colleges in the area to come participate. I was able to work with the school’s GearUp Coordinator who planned several events for the week. One of the events included the Youth Summit Student Ambassadors who held mock-admission interviews for their peers. This allowed students to gain insights into what colleges may be looking for beyond the GPA and ACT. Students also gained knowledge on the importance of community service, student involvement, and how to stand out to an admissions panel. There were also college informational workshops and college and military reps on hand. This allowed the students to talk one-on-one with the representatives and learn more about the schools, as well as get their application fees waived. On Thursday of College App Week, students and school staff were encouraged to wear their favorite college gear! This was a great way to set the college going culture for younger students and seniors that didn’t encompass the mindset prior to College App Week. On Friday, students that had applied to college had the opportunity to place their names on a banner that was placed in the commons area for everyone to see. The banner served as an incentive for these students to start applying and get the move on the college going process! I am very proud of Johnson County High School and their hard work and efforts during this week!
This is my second year working as a NiswongerCARE Advisor. I feel that I am making an even greater impact this school year since I have a better understanding of my role in the schools and students are seeking me out to assist them. This past week at Sullivan East High School I helped promote a TN Path to College event during “College App Week.” Students were encouraged to apply to the colleges of their choice. In one day we had 150 students apply to colleges. Many of these students applied to multiple schools! ETSU and Northeast State representatives told us that it was the most students they had apply to their institutions in one day. The Counseling Department was excited that 150 of their 200 seniors applied to go to college in one day. I feel like my support as a NiswongerCARE Advisor contributed to its success.