For the past few weeks, students across Oregon have been settling in for another school year. For many students, however, the focus isn’t so much on their education, but what they’ll do once their high school education is over.
The possibilities are nearly endless. Some students can enter immediately into the workforce after graduation, while others will need to earn a college degree before they enter their preferred career. Even more students may split the difference and attend a trade school, while a rising number of students are deciding to take a gap year before they decide on anything at all.
It is a daunting decision, especially for today’s youth. Even once they make that decision, that is only the first step in reaching their post-high school goals.
Luckily, students are not alone in this endeavor, thanks to the “Access to Student Assistance Programs in Reach of Everyone” program, better known as ASPIRE.
The ASPIRE program’s main goal is to provide all students with opportunities for life after high school, with the help of volunteers who mentor both individual and groups of students.
“ASPIRE has been a program throughout the state of Oregon in over 130 sites for over 10 years,” said Bou Kilgore, the team leader of the ASPIRE program at Siuslaw High School. “Students explore interests, search for programs and apply for funding by working one on one with volunteer mentors.”
The ASPIRE team is also led by Robert Orr, who has volunteered with ASPIRE in the past, but is taking on his first year of leadership in the program.
ASPIRE kicked off the 2017-18 year with a September meeting to discuss goals for the current school year.
One such topic was the upcoming plan for a scholarship night and a financial aid night at Siuslaw High School, on Oct. 9 and 16, respectively. These will be open to students and their families, and are the first chance to introduce youth to local scholarship opportunities and other financial aid options available.
The most important form of financial aid stressed at the meeting was the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Starting Sunday, Oct. 1, the FAFSA will be made available online, with possible financial aid being awarded for the 2018-19 school year.
ASPIRE’s other goals included getting more students signed up for mentoring.
“Every year, we try to hook up a couple more kids with the program, whether they’re freshmen, sophomores, juniors or seniors,” said Siuslaw High School Principal Kerri Tatum. “We’re trying to get more students to fill out the FAFSA, and every year we try to do better than the year before.”
One way that the ASPIRE program has measured its success is by how much local scholarship money is awarded to students at the end of the school year. At the end of the 2017 school year, more than $230,000 was awarded to students from local scholarships.
As well as discussing what the volunteers could do to help students over the year, the need for more volunteers was also stressed over the course of the meeting.
There are currently 15 ASPIRE volunteers tasked with mentoring both individuals and groups of students at the high school. In time, the program wants to work with all 400 students at the high school.
Kilgore spoke about her own experiencing with joining ASPIRE for the first time as a volunteer.
“When I retired after 32 years teaching in Napa Valley, I sought a way to continue my interest in education when my family moved to Florence,” she said. “I’ve always believed everyone deserves a place at the table, especially in public education.
“There is a lot to learn as a mentor, but the material is accessible and tried and true. Becoming a guide and seeing a student through graduation and heading off to a program with the means to pay for it, is its own reward.”
Those interested in joining ASPIRE as a volunteer do not need to have a background in education, but do need time available to meet weekly with one or more students, and a strong desire to help students find their path to success.
Siuslaw High School counselor Steve Moser said, “The ASPIRE program wouldn’t be where it is today, or able to help support students the way it does, without the hard work and dedication from both Bou and Bob. It’s safe to say ASPIRE wouldn’t exist without their continued contributions.”
To sign up, prospective volunteers can contact Siuslaw School District or email Kilgore or Orr at [email protected]