RHS College For Parents Offers Critical Information to District Families
Soup, salad, and bread are ready for families coming into the Ralston High School Media Center. Two screens show the agenda for the evening - one in English, one in Spanish. Counselor Stacy Athow and Career Center Coordinator Laura Carlow are ready to connect with families.
“It’s important to have a plan beyond Ralston High School. In a career field, at a college, whatever it may be,” Carlow said in an interview about the RHS program called “College for Parents.” Athow and Carlow started the program two years ago, but are especially excited for the growth this year following training on how to best help parents help their students, last summer.
“This is the first year we’ve really had planned lessons and a sequence to what we talk about in each session,” Athow explained. Topics for the monthly meetings between September and April include: applying to college, money matters, college costs, supporting that social/emotional transition, helping students adapt to life in college and overcome obstacles, as well as tips for guardians to see their student succeed academically. “It’s important for families to hear all of those topics,” Athow added.
At the beginning of their most recent meeting, families greeted one another and enjoyed food as Carlow began highlighting scholarships available for students. “Does anyone have a student who would like to be a teacher? This is a good one,” she told the group. With Spanish-language liaisons on-hand, families interact in some kind of illustrative activity before Athow begins to present on that evening’s topic. A four-year grant from Education Quest funds a range of targeted activities at Ralston High School - all designed to grow access to post-secondary opportunities by removing obstacles that can get in the way of a family exploring options.
“It can be very confusing,” Athow explained in the interview, “especially for people who have not been through the process of applying to and going to college. It’s still a lot for someone who has been to college. For us, it really was getting families in here to help them understand their role and learn to provide support.”
All RHS parents and guardians are invited, but staff see mostly families of 12th-grade students at the beginning of the year, with more 11th-grade families joining after Winter Break. Each monthly session seems to draw a larger crowd.
Beyond the monthly “College For Parents,” events (which include free childcare at Ralston High School), RHS hosts two FAFSA nights a year. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is a critical component of the college and scholarship application process, but many families may find the workNobo to complete it intimidating. That’s why staff provide the time and computers to families, explaining in advance what a parent needs to bring, and staying nearby to answer any questions in English or Spanish. At November’s FAFSA night, 18 families of Ralston High School students completed the application. “That makes an enormous difference for them,” said Carlow.
The program has attracted attention from across the Omaha area - and across the country. Athow and Carlow have fielded questions from as far away as Maine about how they started and grew the outreach.
If you are interested in attending a College For Parents event, there are a variety of ways to stay up to date: visit the Ralston High School College & Career Center website, follow @RalstonCCC on Twitter, or ‘like’ @RalstonHighSchool on Facebook. Sessions are normally the second Thursday of the month.