College counselor guides Fort Worth students amid pandemic

Western Hills Councilor Valerie Gonzalez is campaigning to help students at her own school and others find ways to enter college at a time when the challenge has grown greater.  She recently appeared on the national radio show and podcast

Western Hills Councilor Valerie Gonzalez is campaigning to help students at her own school and others find ways to enter college at a time when the challenge has grown greater. She recently appeared on the national radio show and podcast “This American Life”.

Sharon Ellman

With costs constantly rising, attending university has become a growing challenge for many high school students. Add to that a deadly global pandemic, and it may have become more difficult than ever before.

Visits to the college were limited and, in many cases, canceled. Most colleges have stopped requiring the SAT as part of the application process, a move that can affect scholarship opportunities.

And many students are faced with the choice of pursuing higher education or going to work to help their families who have been affected by the pandemic.

All of these reasons are why Valerie Gonzalez works to help students caught up in this dilemma. The senior counselor at Western Hills High School in Fort Worth even took her efforts nationwide, reaching more than students at her own school.

“We are seeing a drop in college attendance due to COVID-19. Many of my students started working full time this school year when the Fort Worth School District (FWISD) decided to give students the option of going to school 100% virtually, hybrid, or 100% in person ” , she said.

“Because students were given the opportunity to work full time without needing to go to college, many of them were discouraged from even doing their homework to complete their final year, let alone considering to go to college.

Find the right fit

Gonzalez recently discussed the situation during an appearance on “This American Life,” a popular radio show and podcast.

She has worked with host Ira Glass and Paul Tough, author of “The Inequality Machine: How College Divides Us”. They asked her about her work and the impact of the pandemic on the school year.

“After this first meeting, Ira and Paul were so curious about my work that they asked if they could interview some of my students for the podcast,” she said.

The episode focused on students who were initially going to attend a four-year-old school but were forced to change their plans due to the pandemic. Many students have had to switch to community college enrollment or not attend any college at all.

“The whole experience has been quite exciting and quite rewarding. I would say my message to high school students about their college education is that they should be looking to do something after high school that they’re passionate about, ”she says. “It’s not my job to convince or force students to go to college. Rather, my job is to help students find their best partner and enroll in a post-secondary plan.

“When my students decide to go to college, I’m ecstatic, especially when I know I can help them go to school for free or almost for free. Regardless of what my students choose to do, I’m proud of them for making a plan for after they graduate from high school.

Financial opportunities

Gonzalez also points out to students that while it is more difficult to make visits to the university these days, there are ways to get there despite the challenges.

“A lot of my students choose their university without ever even visiting it. My school is very fortunate to be part of a new initiative called the Tarrant To and Through (T3) partnership, ”she said.

T3, with the help of the Rainwater Charitable Foundation, has been able to provide many students with last dollar scholarships at Tarrant County College and the University of Texas at Arlington, as well as $ 500 scholarships at TCU , North Texas, Tarleton State, Texas Wesleyan, and UNT Dallas, she noted. In addition, FWISD provides its campuses with a monthly scholarship package containing listings of local and national scholarships.

Gonzalez said cost is the biggest hurdle facing potential students today.

“A lot of my students don’t consider going to college because they don’t think they can afford to raise tuition fees,” she said. “Once I have talked to them and discussed the different ways they can receive financial assistance, either because of their average, their test scores or their financial situation, they are more open to the idea of ​​going. at University.

“In my opinion, others can encourage more young people to attend university by simply helping them find avenues for financial aid and working with the student to be successful in funding their post-secondary education.

She believes her message is getting through.

“The students I am able to reach, or who find their way to me, are mostly receptive to the message I share with them.

“The same goes for parents, guardians or family members. When a student or family member is unsure of how the university application process works, they are often hesitant. However, once they know there are resources available to them, they are often enthusiastic about their student and willing to do whatever it takes to help them.

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