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Passing down wisdom

The Tornado Future Center in the heart of North Medford High School often bustles with students seeking advice or resources to prepare for what comes after their final day on campus.

Late Wednesday morning, however, the space was filled with young people who had already progressed beyond that day anywhere from a few months to a few years ago. Jeri Childress, who helps run the Tornado Future Center, invited the alumni back for a specific assignment.

Between hugs and greetings, Childress hung back, letting the alumni chat with the other people she enticed to the resource center every lunch period that week: North students who wanted to know the real story on what awaits them on the other side of the graduation stage.

These interactions, which Childress has arranged for three years in a row, are offered “so that our students can hear what (the college) experience is like ... straight from a college student,” she said.

Stacy Carle, who runs a similar event at South Medford High School, describes it as access to an authentic view of post-graduation life, beyond the gloss of brochures and enthusiasm of college recruiters.

“I think they get the unvarnished truth,” she said.

On Tuesday, 14 alumni from South Medford High School’s class of 2019 sat inside the school’s black box-style theater, fielding questions from current Panthers about roommates, homesickness and how to use time in high school to prepare for the leap to college or other types of training after high school.

“Last year, it was a hit, so we decided to do it again,” Carle said.

The concept is similar at the two schools, but each executes its event a little differently.

Childress, for example, invited students from a range of graduating classes, as far back as 2016, to speak with students. Carle sticks to only the previous year.

She feels it’s more meaningful for the current students to hear from people who recently have graduated. There’s also a better chance that the students might know each other when they’re only a year or two apart.

“There’s that personal connection. ... I think it all comes down to that relationship,” she said.

While conversations in the Tornado Future Center were mostly one-on-one, with cookies and hot chocolate as additional sweet incentives, the South event was structured as a panel discussion, with time for one-on-one conversations before students returned to class.

Childress and Carle both work to pull in alumni who represent a wide range of paths chosen after graduating.

“It’s a team effort to put together a panel that represents a wide variety of students,” Carle said. “It makes it more relatable.”

Sarah Tang and Carli Brousseau, both class of ’18, waited in the Tornado Future Center Wednesday for North Medford students before paying visits to former teachers.

Tang is on a pre-med track at UCLA. Brousseau studies business and marketing at Northwest Christian University in Eugene.

A sample of the conversations in the Tornado Future Center and a glance at the table covered in neat stacks of scholarship applications and information pointed to a topic that seemed most to be on the students’ minds: the cost of postsecondary education.

“They were really honest,” said Elyana Kelly, a senior who spoke with a couple of alumni who are enrolled at Southern Oregon University.

She and her friend Michaela Kasper said the cost of college is a major factor impacting their planning.

Kasper said she is working to boost her GPA this year to qualify for more scholarships. After talking with the alumni attending SOU, she’s thinking carefully about the cost of living on campus versus off, or attending community college to earn her associate degree before transitioning to a four-year school for a bachelors degree.

“I at least want to try (college),” she said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Emily Grether, a freshman at Brigham Young University, left, talks to Claire Charles, North Medford Senior, about life in college during a Alumni Visits event at North on Wednesday.
Jamie Lusch North Medford High School students and North Medford Alumni talk about college life on Wednesday.