Tyrell Beatty, a senior at Sisters High School, has been accepted to two universities, and is waiting on the responses of a couple more.
He’s still meeting frequently with his mentor, Wendy Von Kalinowski, a local architect and designer who’s guided him through prepping for college aptitude tests, nailing college application essays and deciding what major to focus on.
On Thursday morning, Von Kalinowski, 62, and Beatty, 18, discussed which scholarships the senior could apply for in his pursuit of studying music therapy or sign-language interpretation.
In less than an hour, they found he was eligible for 39 grants, including a $1,000 scholarship from The Nugget newspaper in Sisters for recently earning Student of the Month.
Von Kalinowski is one of 33 volunteers in Sisters High School’s ASPIRE (Access to Student assistance Programs In Reach of Everyone) program, a local version of a statewide effort to connect adult mentors with high school juniors and seniors to help students figure out post-high school life.
According to Rick Kroytz, Sisters High’s ASPIRE coordinator since 2013, the local volunteers usually meet their students one-on-one about once a month to help with SAT and ACT tests, college or trade school applications, and more. Kroytz said one of the main goals of the ASPIRE program is to help students figure out what they want to do after high school, whether it’s a four-year university, community college, or going into trades.
“I always think that having a plan is your first step in achieving success,” he said.
Van Kalinowski said she began mentoring students four years ago to “help inspire them to meet their aspirations” and narrow down the vast number of options that high schoolers have once they graduate.
“There are so many choices for them, and it can be overwhelming when they’re 17, 16. We’re kind of that bridge, the sounding board, trying to listen,” she said.
Fellow ASPIRE mentor Julia Huni, who works full time for Central Oregon Community College, added that she and other mentors help provide direction and focus for students, as well as giving them tips on the application process that teens might not consider.
“There’s so many little moving pieces that each kid has to accomplish,” Huni, 54, said. “For example, when you’re a senior, it won’t occur to you that you need to get a letter of recommendation from a couple teachers until you start applying to schools. The time you want to ask for those is much earlier in the year, before the teachers are so busy that they don’t have time to get them done.”
She added that high school students sometimes need a separate voice beyond their family members and teachers giving them advice.
“I remember from when I was a teenager, and watching my own kids, most kids respond better to an outside adult,” she said.
Beatty said he’s been accepted to Seattle Pacific University and Pacific University in Forest Grove, and he found working with Van Kalinowski helped him through the college application process.
“It has helped me because I’ve been able to gain a better perspective as to what college searching is all about, writing good essays and making them interesting. It’s also been able to help me plan better and prioritize,” he said.
Senior Hunter Lucas, 18, agreed, saying that his mentor, Susan Parker, was able to get him in contact with businesspeople in order to help him find what he wanted to study — engineering.
“I would definitely say that (ASPIRE) has been helpful,” said Lucas, who’s been accepted to three universities: University of Portland, Pepperdine and Gonzaga.
According to the Higher Education Coordinating Commission, 91 percent of ASPIRE students in Oregon applied to or are planning to attend at least one college or technical/vocational program within a year of graduating high school, 87 percent applied for financial aid and 69 percent applied for at least one scholarship.
Although there are many ASPIRE programs throughout Oregon — including at Mountain View, La Pine, Redmond, Ridgeview and Crook County high schools — Kroytz said Sisters’ program stands out because of the small town’s willingness to volunteer.
“We have an amazing group of volunteers, and people volunteer within the community everywhere,” he said. “I just think that’s what makes the world better, when you get involved and get engaged and step out of your comfort zone to try and make a difference in someone else’s life or in your community.”
One of those volunteers, Parker, doesn’t even spend most of her time in Sisters — she lives eight months of the year in Oakland, California. Parker, 66, who managed six Bay Area Macy’s department stores before retiring seven years ago, owns a home at Black Butte Ranch and lives there during the fall, when she’s able to visit her ASPIRE students monthly. After December, she flies up every other month for the rest of the school year, but she said she’s able to easily reach her students despite living a state away.
“They can call me, text me, FaceTime me,” Parker, 66, said. “They know I’m available … and it’s kind of a kick for them that I’m in California.”
Parker said she loves being a part of the students’ lives.
“Not only do you end up mentoring these kids, but you end up cheering for them at baseball and football games,” she said. “It’s a really, really fun process. There’s a real sense of community.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7854, firstname.lastname@example.org