June 3, 2019

Spring has sprung, as they say, with summer clinging tight to the tail end of this season, ready to move in at a thunderstorm’s notice. All of the seniors at Troy High School have completed their last day of school, checked out of their classes, cleaned their lockers, returned their books to the library and submitted their final papers and projects. With them gone, my office feels empty, though my door remains open. Perfect time to reflect on all that has occurred this year, and the impact the seniors have had on the student body and myself.

In the beginning of September, the GEAR UP team and I divided all 29 seniors into small “focus groups” as we called them, so we could have meaningful, one-on-one conversations about their goals and plans in order to create specific and targeted plans for their senior year. Over the next few months, our groups became share spaces for important information and deadlines, upcoming scholarships, events, college application materials, and other how-to -adult items as they came up. We hosted a FAFSA night, where parents brought in their taxes and received guidance from the GU team, myself and a representative of Reach Higher Montana to fill out the FAFSA with confidence. We had a Do’s and Donuts of Scholarships evening where we shared information (and donuts) about different financial aid options, tips for writing good essays and how to find appropriate scholarships per circumstances.

We hosted the largest Career Fair THS has seen yet, and later had a Reality Fair focused on learning how to budget. We funded nearly 20 field trip visits to various colleges, and had additional funding set aside for students who wanted to check out other schools with their folks that reimbursed travel costs and paid for hotel stays and meals. By spring break, all 29 seniors had been admitted to a community college or university, and have applied for thousands of dollars worth of local scholarships. Not all of them plan to attend school right away, but the fact remains that their admittance into schools shows how capable they each are, and how many options they have ahead of them.

As the school year has gone on, our specific focus groups have organically disbanded, and in its place has arisen a broadly welcoming center for all who have questions about life and college, as well as a place to gather to share stories and apprehension at leaving the bubble they’ve known all their lives. My office may feel empty, but my heart has never been so full. I am proud to call many of these students friends, and on their last day I handed out cards full of congratulations and encouragement. I shared a poem that was given to me when I graduated college, and many of them now have it posted up where they will see it every day to pull further encouragement from.

I’ve read countless entrance and scholarship essays, shared life advice, and called numerous college offices with my students to help them get questions answered about dorm life, financial aid, class registration, and how to make friends at school. I’ve come in after hours and on days off to meet with students to answer questions, responded to middle-of-the-night-panic emails, and written several letters of recommendation. On June 1st, 2019 I had the privilege of attending their graduation, and watched all of them walk across the stage and receive their diplomas. One of my students wore a pair of heels I gave her that I wore at my own high school graduation, and another wore a dress I gave her. These students have worked their way through tremendous odds to make it to the point they are at today, and have the resilience to continue facing anything that tries to stand in their way. With the support of programs like GEAR UP and MTCC cheering for continued education, countless students across Montana will be encouraged to make their dreams into realities year after year.

Congratulations, Troy High Class of 2019. You are officially 2019% done with high school! :’)