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More Phoenix grads college-bound

PHOENIX — Certificates that ring the walls of Phoenix High School's College Corner to celebrate acceptance of seniors by higher education institutions portray a surge in the number going to college.

Jennifer Corona, who took over the center this year, has been told there's nearly double the number of certificates compared to last year. Figures are not available for 2013, but so far, 111 of the school's 176 seniors have been accepted to begin higher education after graduation.

Other figures also suggest more students will attend college.

Scholarship awards by the Phoenix-Talent Education Foundation have risen from 37 in 2013 to 69 this year. Attendance at an annual meeting where parents were instructed on the federal financial-aid application process went from 11 to 55.

School officials credit a team approach this year that has synchronized the work of two outside programs with College Corner's efforts for the increases.

"All these agencies have aligned their work, putting together a system where no senior is left behind," said Principal Jani Hale, who confirmed that the number of college-bound seniors has doubled. "(They are) sharing data and sharing information and working as a team."

Two government-funded programs that promote college attendance operate at the school. TRiO is a federal educational opportunity outreach program designed to motivate and support students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Oregon's College Dreams Individual Development Account program allows student savings toward higher education to receive a $3 match for each dollar saved.

Students applying for colleges now face a more demanding process than students in previous classes, said Corona. Getting through the admissions process with testing, applications and financial-aid requirements can be daunting, she said.

A Google documents program set up by a College Corner worker tracks students individually as they complete steps in admission and scholarship processes. Both the students and workers in the center have access to the data.

"It helps so that we aren't always asking them the same questions," said Corona.

"There is so much preparation that goes into applying for colleges and scholarships that even the brightest students need help," said Jen Perry, coordinator of College Dreams. "The administration is open to people coming in to serve the kids. The teachers are busy teaching, so kids can access us on their own time."

Sonia Lemacks heads the TRiO program that works, beginning at the middle-school level, with learners who would be first-generation college students or who come from low-income families. There are 32 seniors in the program this year.

"The big piece that they added at the high school is a system of no senior left behind," said Lemacks. "We work together as a team to offer things. We all cover all areas, but obviously we try to use our specialties."

Hale emphasized that she didn't want to make assistance exclusive by program or specialty. And if someone comes to the center, that's the best time to help them, said Lemacks. Students have become more educated on the process, she said.

"They are much more aware of what they need to do and are aware they have to come in and seek out assistance," said Lemacks.

Of the school's 176 seniors, 170 of them are expected to graduate on June 7, said Corona.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.