The St. John the Baptist Parish Public School District recently helped the Louisiana Department of Education kick off its effort to get more students exploring their options after high school.
The school district was chosen to host the FAFSA (Free Application for Financial Student Aid) Kick-off Event for the New Orleans area on Oct. 3 because of its outstanding FAFSA completion rate during the 2017-18 school year.
“FAFSA is not just for a four-year college. It also for a two-year school. It could be a technical school or going on to some kind of trade or proprietary school and we want every child to have the opportunity to do that,” said Stephanie Marcum, Education Technology Consultant with the Louisiana Department of Education. “St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools had a 96 percent submission rate last year. That should equate to more students going on to post-secondary education.”
FAFSA completion opens up opportunities for federal grants that do not need to be repaid, federal student loans and work-study programs that can offer a way to pay for school while building a resume. It is also a requirement for Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) Opportunity, Performance, Honors and Tech scholarships and is now a graduation requirement from the LDOE unless students apply for and receive a waiver.
In St. John the Baptist Parish, counselors began pulling seniors from their English classes to help them create their FSA IDs in October of last year. They held several daytime and after-school FAFSA Blitz meetings and invited parents to two sessions of a Coffee with the Counselors event when senior parents enjoyed coffee and donuts while learning about graduation requirements and started the FAFSA process. Counselors also held a FAFSA Week and invited the LDOE to assist them while one of the school's counselors met individually with LEP (Limited English Proficiency) and former LEP students to determine those students' eligibility for financial assistance in addition to conducting sessions in Spanish for Spanish-speaking students and their families. FAFSA Fridays in March helped move the seniors toward the March 30 school system deadline for FAFSA completion, a lunch open door policy offered students additional help and Parent Drop-ins were instituted. In addition to these meetings, counselors used automated and personal phone calls, the school marquee, and daily announcements from February through May to motivate seniors.
For their efforts, last year’s high school counselors Carol Mills, Demecca Jones, Elizabeth Leatherwood, Tai Cambre and Veta Parker were recognized during the FAFSA Kick-off Event.
“As I walked around and greeted parents and had conversations with you it just reminded me of the reason why we’re truly here,” St. John the Baptist Parish Public School District Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction Tracy Hypolite told parents and students at the event. “We see our children come here in pre-K and kindergarten and it’s our job to guide them toward that big milestone, to prepare them for college, so I’m just so excited to see parents sit there and have conversations with their children as they fill out their applications and tell them that they are about to go on. So, from the district office, I’d like to say thank you to the parents because we cannot do this without you.”