Junior creates College Coaches program for Walla Walla High School

Rachel Alexander

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Emily Lorente '11, who developed the College Coaches program set to begin spring semester at Whitman, poses in Penrose Library. Credit: Bullion

Emily Lorente '11, who developed the College Coaches program set to begin spring semester at Whitman, poses in Penrose Library. Credit: Bullion

Already this year, Whitman students have adopted grandparents, become storytellers and mentored local elementary school kids. Now, thanks to junior Emily Lorente, they’ll also have the opportunity to be college coaches at Walla Walla High School.

“[The students] have a lot of potential to seek higher education but some need support,” Lorente said.

Lorente became interested in starting  the College Coaches program  after being an RA with the Whitman Institute for Summer Enrichment, a program which reaches out to local middle school students and helps them begin to prepare for college. She had a great experience, but also saw that the summer enrichment program lacked the resources to follow up with students during their time in high school after the program ended.

“It was kind of like, ‘Have a good four years!'” she said.

College Coaches aims to offer that missing support by working directly with Walla Walla High students in a group mentoring capacity. The program will start as a pilot during spring semester and will work with the existing Achievement Via Individual Determination program at the school. Each Whitman volunteer will be assigned three students to mentor.

Lina Menard, the community service coordinator, has been working with Lorente on getting the program started, and says if it’s successful in its first semester, it could be incorporated into the community service office next fall.

“I think it’s really neat that we’re working to develop a connection between Walla Walla High School students and Whitman students that is academically focused,” said Menard.

Both Menard and Lorente feel the program will allow Whitman students to work with a new group in the Walla Walla community.

“It was something I felt was kind of lacking at Whitman,” said Lorente. “There are [programs with] little kids and there are [programs with] old people, but there’s nothing with high school-aged kids.”

Mentoring college-bound students has already proven effective in other schools which have similar programs. The Seattle School District’s College Access Now program pairs parents and  AmeriCorps volunteers with low-income, first-generation, college-bound juniors and seniors at three high schools. The volunteers help students look at schools, edit essays and apply for scholarships.

Walla Walla High School senior Denali Molitor said she believes the program will have a positive impact on the school.

“It’s good to see people who are in college: it makes it more visible,” she said.

Molitor is enrolled in two Whitman classes: calculus and Spanish: and is preparing to apply to several colleges this winter. She says that her school has a large achievement gap.

“You usually don’t have classes with people of lower economic status,” she said. “It feels completely different when you’re in an AP class or a regular class.”

Molitor estimates that out of last year’s graduating class, about 100 students went to Walla Walla Community College, about 200 went to four-year schools, and about 100 found a job or joined the military.

Although life for many Walla Walla students is different than what most Whitman students grew up with, Molitor feels that College Coaches will foster an important connection between the two groups.

“I think any help is good help,” she said. “If [the schools] stay separate, it doesn’t help anything.”

Associate Professor of Education Kay Fenimore-Smith has agreed to help Lorente with training for the program. She agrees that the divide between the experiences of Whitman students and Walla Walla students can be bridged.

“If you’re aware of stepping back, understanding that you’re there to mentor and learn and that you don’t have all the answers, that makes your approach very different.” she said.

Lorente hopes the program will inspire Walla Walla High School students by showing them that going to college is a possibility.   She encourages interested Whitman students to come talk to her about getting involved.

“We’re looking for anyone who wants to be involved in the community and have a good relationship with high school kids,” Lorente said.