Traditionally on May 1, College Decision Day is when first-year applicants commit to a college. Some NHA schools capped last week with an assembly complete with a raffle and nostalgia-fueled memories on Friday, April 28, including Wellspring Preparatory High School and Grand River Preparatory High School.
“We spend a lot of time and energy during the student's senior year especially, but also since the beginning of their high school career,” said Teresa Noordhoek, NHA college counseling and early college manager. “This is truly unique to a lot of schools where college readiness is in the background and not discussed with all students. Very few take the time to celebrate with the entire school when seniors make their decisions and take the first steps to their post-secondary destination – it brings us full circle to transition our seniors out while inspiring our underclassmen to take the same steps eventually.”
The main structure is an assembly with the entire school present, as one by one, seniors decked out in college gear announce what school they are attending. The day also is an opportunity to tout how much the class has earned in scholarships and announce awards such as those for first-generation college students or students of color.
Each NHA school has its own spin on College Decision Day festivities. Grand River Prep students ran through a tunnel consisting of teachers and staff on each side, strode up to the mic, and announced their school choice as their younger classmates cheered.
Taylor Preparatory High School made shirts for the students with their last name and college choice on the back. Wellspring incorporates a children’s book as the theme for each class. When the day arrives for seniors, teachers read from the book at the assembly as the soon-to-be college students listen, making for a full-circle moment as the next stage of their life awaits.
With Wellspring being in the school’s Promise Zone, Grand Rapids Community College was on hand and gave out apparel. Schools also hold raffles with “dorm starter kit” items to prepare them for college, ranging from laundry detergent to a minifridge or TV, and underclassmen receive college items such as water bottles.
“We love to build that culture of the younger students seeing that moment and seeing the excitement of it to make them ready for that someday, too,” Noordhoek said. “It’s a fun way to send them off and build that culture as a group.”
Each NHA student is required to get into a four-year school to graduate, and College Decision Day represents the last checkpoint. At Grand River Prep, for instance, the numbers speak for themselves – this year’s senior class of 110 graduates earned nearly 400 college acceptances and more than $3.7 million in scholarships.
The goal is to ensure students are prepared for the next level of education. That mindset is woven into the curriculum, as NHA students are trained to think, communicate, and problem-solve in ways that will instill college-preparedness skills.
This is achieved through NHA tentpoles such as AP Programs, Early College Program, and College Readiness programs. Activities such as Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Night give students exposure to college clubs and organizations, along with hands-on experiences that open their eyes to possible careers.
“It's something they look forward to as underclassmen, and when they’re finally there, it’s like ‘Oh my gosh, this is finally happening,’” said Brianna Medellin, college/career ready counselor at Wellspring Prep. “It’s something that is cool and unique.”
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National Heritage Academies (NHA) is a network of 100 tuition-free, public charter schools across nine states, serving more than 60,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. For more information, visit nhaschools.com.
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