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Mentors support college and career aspirations at AHS

The vibrant ASPIRE program at Ashland High School helps students access higher education and career training beyond high school.

Coordinated by Jennifer Marsden, Ashland High School’s college and career specialist, the more than 10-year-old program recruits and trains adult volunteer mentors to work individually with students who are exploring their options for career and college education and need help with planning, applications, financial aid and scholarship information.

ASPIRE at AHS has 30 active volunteers who receive training and access to a wide range of resources from Marsden, and at monthly ASPIRE mentor meetings. The meetings provide a forum for lively discussions and extensive sharing of knowledge and successful strategies for helping students explore, plan, prepare for and navigate through the challenges of applying to colleges or professional training institutes and for scholarships and grants.

AHS ASPIRE also administers the Fast Forward Fund, a mini-grant program to help students with exceptional financial needs make the transition to college. Fast Forward was initiated by longterm ASPIRE volunteer, Richard Krieger, and is supported by donations, as well as from a grant from the Lithia Springs Rotary Club of Ashland. Funds are used to help AHS seniors with expenses that are often unrecognized as barriers to college enrollment for low-income students.

Another offshoot of the AHS ASPIRE program is a series of affordable College Application Essay Writing workshops being held at Ashland and Talent public libraries in July and August under the leadership of another longterm mentor, Sarah Silver.

The goal of the CAEW workshops is to provide students an opportunity to complete substantial work on their applications to four-year colleges prior to the start of their demanding senior year. With the motto “Equitable Access to Higher Education is a Matter of Social and Economic Justice” in mind, the cost of the workshops is scaled to family income to ensure inclusivity and affordability. For CAEW information, email sdsilver72@gmail.com.

The AHS ASPIRE program is partially supported by the state of Oregon’s Office of Student Access and Completion. Last year AHS was awarded a $2,800 Partnership Grant from OSAC to help fund the AHS ASPIRE program. In 2017-18, 10,899 students and 1,616 volunteers participated in Oregon ASPIRE programs.

Additional training for Oregon ASPIRE volunteer mentors is provided at annual conferences offered by OSAC with subsidized travel and lodging for participants. The 2019 ASPIRE Conference will be held at Central Oregon Community College in Bend. As an office of the Higher Education Coordinating Commission, OSAC also administers the Oregon Opportunity and Oregon Promise grants and more than 600 other scholarship programs, awarding more than $17 million in private scholarships annually to thousands of Oregon students.

For more information about ASPIRE resources and volunteering opportunities, email Jennifer.Marsden@Ashland.k12.or.us.

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