No one in Vanessa Dishmond’s family has gone to college, but that is about to change.
The Macon woman’s daughter Alania already has toured 17 campuses and she is only beginning her senior year at Central High School.
Since sixth grade, Alania has been involved in the GEAR UP program, or Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, funded by a 2011 U.S. Department of Education grant.
On Saturday, her mother spent the day at Wesleyan College at Parent University.
“They really helped me out with all the college information,” Dishmond said after the class.
Not only did the 18 parents learn how to apply for financial aid and file applications, they were encouraged to prepare their children years before they are ready for college.
What really makes me sad, we had so few children taking advantage of this.
Adrianna Cooper-Jones, parent
During the free, five-hour seminar, Vickie Scott from Legacy Builders Foundation explained how she continually prepped her three children to succeed.
“You have to be real with your young people,” Scott told the parents. “They have to know what’s expected and they will rise to the occasion.”
Scott, who grew up in Macon and later served as a high school principal here, encouraged families to set up boxes for college information and financial aid forms.
Students should have four files to separate and keep their academic work, records of programs and camps they’ve attended, scholarship applications and awards, competitions and internships, she said.
Scott, who has her doctorate and attended Mercer University, the University of Georgia and Nova Southeastern University, encouraged the parents to set up an encouraging support network for students that includes family, friends, mentors, counselors, educators and others.
Make sure they know their counselors personally, she said, since letters of recommendation will come from them.
While just beginning high school, contact all the colleges a student is interested in and get in the database.
“You should be getting more mail than anyone on the street,” Scott said. “Let them know what you’re interested in and get on that campus when they have programs.”
Teens should talk to adults about where they went to college and if they know anyone who has connections to their school of choice.
Getting in school is only part of the battle.
Scott encouraged parents to start teaching financial responsibility and go over budgeting with their children.
Set up bank accounts in high school and restrict spending to essentials only.
“I want a fur coat, but I have a very nice jacket,” she said.
Birthdays and gift-giving holidays are perfect times to invest in materials that would be needed for school, like dorm sheets, she said.
Scott learned a lesson in frugality when she discovered her daughter was only eating one meal a day on her inclusive meal plan. She cut back on the plan and got her a small refrigerator so she could keep milk for cereal.
Students also must learn good study habits and organization skills before they get overwhelmed.
“Half go home the first year because they’re not serious,” Scott said.
Scott was preaching to the choir for fellow educator Adrianna Cooper-Jones, who has her two children and younger brother enrolled in the Move On Ready When Ready dual-enrollment program.
Instead of taking a family vacation this summer, they studied six weeks at Wesleyan’s EXCEL Academy in a free program that covers tuition, mandatory fees and required textbooks for 10th- and 11th-graders enrolled in the Bibb County school system.
“We stay with it, as parents, to prepare our children when the world is telling them they can do whatever they want,” Cooper-Jones said.
Vivia Fowler, Wesleyan provost, said EXCEL Academy is a great way students can get college credits at no cost.
“The students were here all day long, took one or two classes. They had tutors, mentors, college students. It was a good experience,” Fowler said.
Jill Amos, director of Wesleyan’s Lane Center for Service and Leadership, said parents need to educate themselves about available dual-enrollment opportunities like EXCEL at the normally all-female school.
“It’s open to males and females to be able to come to college, be familiar with our college campus, be able to earn college credit for courses and actually be ahead of the game before they even start college,” Amos said.
Parents make a big mistake when they start preparing too late, she said.
Bibb County GEAR UP director Janice Flowers said it is never too early to get ready.
“Step out and get your children to step out and believe that they can do it in high school and in college,” Flowers said.
Cooper-Jones has seen a big difference in her teens since getting involved.
They see how college students succeed and are asking for binders and organization tools to help them study.
She sees them now as scholars who are consistently supported as they take their own learning initiatives.
“What really makes me sad, we had so few children taking advantage of this,” Cooper-Jones said.
The exposure for her 15-year-old daughter, Julianna, has been amazing, she said.
“Her community is now so much larger. Not that phony Facebook community, but a scholarly community,” she said. “The world is way larger than 31210.”