The Chehalis Foundation has continued its new strategy through its Beyond K-12 Student Achievement Initiative to ensure all Chehalis students are ready to pursue careers and college.
A partnership with the foundation, the Chehalis School District and Centralia College is committed to funding the expansions of programs beyond the high school and into the college.
The Foundation has already received pledges of $1 million from donors, but is looking for an additional $500,000 from the community.
The Foundation continues to work with The BERC Group, a prestigious and independent evaluation, research and consulting firm, to do an assessment of Centralia College’s support service operation to help build on the previous student achievement initiative.
“One of the things that came out of the study last summer was the fact that in a graduation class traditionally about half of the kids have gone to college, and of that half, 50 percent will start out at Centralia College,” Kevin Smith, a foundation donor, said. “But of the 50 percent that go to Centralia College, a large percentage of those kids drop out, slip through the cracks, and there’s a lot of reasons for that.”
The Foundation’s goal of having 60 percent of the students receive a postsecondary credential of some sort will not be achieved if the students are not successful at Centralia College, Smith said.
“Their success in improving as a college is partly contingent on our success within the school district and making sure students are truly prepared,” he said. “Our focus is on career and college readiness because that’s probably the number one factor that prevents kids from being successful is they are not truly and academically prepared.”
The BERC Group will look into the college’s support services to see if areas can be strengthened to help students as they navigate their future in the college system.
The data collected at the college will be analyzed and compared to other schools in the nation.
The work helps build on other studies, such as the Washington Roundtable Initiative which has found the statewide average of students who have a college credential of some sort is 31 percent, Smith said.
“At the same time, we are in a situation where 70 percent of the new jobs require some kind of post secondary credential, so you can see where the mismatch is,” he said.
The goal of the Roundtable public awareness campaign is to have 70 percent of students in Washington complete a college credential of some sort by 2030.
The Beyond K-12 Student Achievement Initiative will also help better track students with the help of advisers. Currently, the Foundation helps pay for one college prep adviser at W.F. West High School and also one at the college that specifically helps students from Chehalis.
Kerri Chaput, college prep adviser at W.F. West, said her job exists thanks to the Chehalis Foundation.
“At W.F. West I work with students and help them navigate their plans after graduation, whether that is community or technical college, apprenticeships or attending a university,” Chaput said, adding she helps students fill out FAFSA forms, college and scholarship applications and helps arrange campus visits. “The kids really need the kind of one-on-one encouragement, mentoring and advice that the Foundation has afforded our district. It is so much fun to see students engaging with these new opportunities.”
Those involved with the Chehalis Foundation also said the advisor is a key piece to the initiative.
“Half of the kids are coming from families where parents didn’t go to college, so there’s no support for them or they are so intimidated that they don’t understand they are customers in the equation,” Pennie Pickering said. “I think the adviser piece is a huge benefit.”
John Diefendorf, with the Foundation, said the reason the new initiative is so important, is because there is a cycle of undereducated and underemployed in the community. He said no one will want to bring their companies to the area if the community does not offer world class school systems.
“You got 60 percent of kids going to college. They may come back, and we have to give them something to come back to, but if they don’t come back, they’ll give back,” Diefendorf said. “The goal is to transform this community economically and culturally so this is really good stuff that they are doing, but if they are successful 10 years from now you won’t recognize this place and that’s the goal.”
The Foundation has been integral to helping the Chehalis School District by purchasing equipment and paying for a prior student achievement initiative with the objective of increasing the amount of students to go on to earn four-year college degrees from 20 percent to 60 percent in the next decade.
“The Chehalis Foundation is helping the school district make changes that I haven’t seen in my 39 year career history,” Chehalis Superintendent Ed Rothlin said. “It is very remarkable. Through their support of the Beyond K-12 Initiative we are able to give our kids the attention, the guidance, the hands-on experiences and the educational excellence that will create real opportunities for them, and positive change for our community.”