The Chehalis School District and the Chehalis Foundation formalized a partnership with Centralia College in 2017 in an effort to get 60 percent of W.F. West High School students to earn a college or vocational credential after high school — a goal that the district calls the Student Achievement Initiative.
Three years later, they’re seeing results.
Of the graduating W.F. West class of 2017, which included about 200 students, 49 percent have graduated from Centralia College within two years of finishing high school — a 10 percent increase from graduates seen in 2015 and 2016, according to a press release from Centralia College.
“W.F. West students that are going to Centralia College are showing success, and the reason that is happening is because we’re being very intentional about making sure our students that are going to Centralia College are getting what they need and we’ve formed a really nice partnership with the college that we’re proud of,” said director of Teaching and Learning Trisha Smith.
Some of the programs, funded by the Chehalis Foundation, intending to aid in reaching that goal include a summer program for high school seniors at Centralia College, peer mentoring, social engagement, additional support for math courses, and a designated staff member at Centralia College dedicated to helping W.F. West graduates.
The successes at Centralia College are a big step toward the Chehalis School District’s overall goal of having at least 60 percent of students complete some sort of post-secondary degree or certificate by 2022.
“That doesn’t just have to be college, it could be a vocational certificate or trade or military,” said Smith.
The district is shooting to get at least 80 percent of graduates enrolled at a college or in a program to hit the 60 percent graduating rate.
“We know to hit 60 percent we have to get about 80 in some sort of program after high school because there’s just that percentage of kids, just based on circumstances, that won’t finish,” said Chehalis Superintendent Ed Rothlin.
Rothlin explained that the district is looking at all aspects that may hinder students from seeing success beyond high school.
“At Centralia College, we are doing a bit more for those students because we can and it’s in our neighborhood and we have formed a partnership. One thing that we do is, students between their junior and senior years can take a class at the college and we help fund that. We fund college in high school so they can start having college credits before they’re out of high school and not have to do a running-start where they have to be at the college full time,” Smith explained.
Rothlin said that a lot of the resources and funding for many of the programs the district has in place to help students succeed after high school come from the Chehalis Foundation. He said that it’s really a “triangle partnership” with the Chehalis School District, Centralia College and the Chehalis Foundation.
The first step in this process was making sure students were graduating high school and W.F. West’s graduating class has been steadily increasing since 2013 — putting the district at 95 percent of the class of 2019 graduating high school.
“(College preparation) doesn’t just start their senior year, but we prepare them all the way through school — K through 12,” Smith said.
Rothlin explained that during the summer between high school graduation and the start of college they have seen students change their minds or get a job and not end up attending college as they planned — which is referred to as “the summer melt”.
“That handoff between W.F. West students and Centralia College is a real partnership that we are working on so that they don’t just sit in their office and wait for the students to show up in September and we don’t just pat them on the back as they walk across the stage at graduation and say ‘go get ‘em at Centralia’ and then forget about them,” Rothlin said. “We have counselors working with them in the summertime, making contacts with those students, making sure they register and get their books and are ready to go to college.”
One component that was created by the partnership between the W.F. West and Centralia College is a retention specialist, Oscar Escalante, who is staffed at the college to work exclusively with W.F. West graduates to offer support, make sure they are on track and help them succeed.
“I try to spend a lot of time at the high school before they get to college so the students can get to know me and will have a familiar face to come to with problems that may arise. It’s helpful for them to have someone who is closer to the pulse of the college to answer questions and help solve problems,” Escalante said.
Another position the Chehalis School District added is the College Prep Advisor Kerri Chaput who preps seniors for college by giving advice and helping with college admissions processes, SAT scores, scholarships and financial aid forms.
“We couldn’t be happier with the initial results of this program. We haven’t reached the finish line yet, but we are out of the blocks and have set a really good pace,” said Robert Cox, vice president of Student Services at Centralia College in a press release. “Chehalis School District employees and college staff are collaborating like never before to increase college completion.”