Higher education in reach for local students with ATS
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By Kaydon Coburn  February 15, 2013 12:00 am

The path to gaining a higher education directly out of high school is not always clear or fair, and serious students have many unanswered questions along the way. Some young scholars lack the resources and vital information they will need to be successful at the university level; the Academic Talent Search (ATS) is a successful program that satisfies those needs.
“We recruit for higher education,” explains Susan Wandling, director of the Sonoma State ATS program. “Even though we’re the host at Sonoma State, the common misconception is that we recruit for Sonoma State. Everyone who enrolls in higher education is a success to us.”

Annual spring recruitment
ATS conducts annual spring recruitments of primarily sixth- and seventh-grade students throughout Sonoma County.
“They stay with us until they graduate high school,” Wandling said.

Local presentations and recruitments are held at most elementary sites – Waldo Rohnert, Thomas Page, Evergreen, and Lawrence E. Jones Middle School. The program also operates with the enrolled students through nine high schools and nine middle schools throughout Sonoma County.

The ATS program is open to all students beginning in the sixth grade, and none are pre-selected by teachers or counselors, but the program does have a selection process and specific requirements for admission.

“Two-thirds of our students are designated as low-income (or either parent with no bachelor degree), but that is just one indicator of the need for the program because research shows low-income families often lack access to information and resources for college prep,” said Wandling, who has been running the program for more than 10 years now.
The program currently serves 110 students in Rohnert Park/Cotati, and serves more than 1,000 students throughout Sonoma County.
“We have a fairly even distribution of students per grade level all the way up to 12th grade,” says Wandling.

Put on the right path
Senior Vanessa Nava said, “With neither my parents or I knowing what exactly I had to do or what to expect for my senior year, applying to colleges, and financial aid, ATS has helped me and my family go the right path towards a successful completion of all applications.”

Once admitted to ATS, students participate in the program’s activities and services through high school graduation, as long as they follow behavioral guidelines and meet program expectations which include maintaining G.P.A., enrollment in college prep courses, attending workshops and summer session, as well as completing all entrance exams.

“By the time they enter their senior year of high school, they’re participating in an intensive two-week college placement program,” Wandling said.

The ATS students receive information and practice with college applications, financial aid applications, scholarship searches, SAT/ACT prep, and how to conduct a college search. The students also get the opportunity to visit at least five college campuses as far south as San Diego, and north to Humboldt during the spring break.

“We’re (ATS) giving them first-hand experiences on campuses all over California,” Wandling said.

Helpful workshops
The ATS also provides workshops on positive self-esteem and leadership development, teamwork, study habits, academic preparation and career education, and a year-end awards ceremony.

“It has helped me have an interest in what I want to do when I get older,“ says eighth grade student Dana Harrison. “Not a lot of students know what they want to be. It helps me definitely realize this is real life, and this is going to happen in a couple of years.”

The Academic Readiness Camp (ARC), a one-week summer program at SSU, prepares sixth- and seventh-grade students for math success, develops students’ early awareness of college and financial aid opportunities, and introduces students to ATS staff and mentors. “It (ARC) is really fun because I get bored during the summer; it’s like a school day in the summer and I met a lot of new people. That was fun,” says eighth-grade student Amanda Summitt.

The ATS program was recently given the choice to take budget cuts or expand the amount of students it serves. The program jumped from serving more than 700 students to now assisting more than 1,000 countywide, says Wandling. The ATS program must submit a grant every five years to sustain the program. SSU has been the host school for the Sonoma County ATS since the early 1980s, and 460 ATS programs run nationwide according to Wandling. ATS is a federally funded program, which came into existence in 1965 as a result of the Higher Education Act.  This year’s application deadline is March 8. Go to www.sonoma.edu/trio/ats or call 664-2359 for more info.

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