TALLADEGA COUNTY -- Five local high schools were recently honored with the first “Best Hustle Award” for successfully improving early Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completion by “at least 10 percent from Oct. 1 to Dec. 1, 2017,” according to a press release from Alabama Possible, a statewide nonprofit.
Three Talladega County schools were awarded, including Childersburg High, with an increase in FAFSA completion from 9.35 percent to 21.9 percent; Lincoln High, with an increase from 17.52 percent to 19.84 percent; and Munford High, with an increase from 12.50 percent to 24.6 percent.
“Preparing our students for college and/or a career is a priority for all of our schools,” Talladega County Schools Superintendent Dr. Suzanne Lacey said in a statement emailed to The Daily Home.
“Our counselors, career coaches, teachers, support staff and administrators work tirelessly in a collaborative effort to ensure all students are afforded every opportunity beyond high school.
“We are excited that Alabama Possible has recognized CHS, LHS and MHS. The recognition validates the continuous work of our schools to meet the needs of each student.”
Talladega High was also awarded, with an increase in completion from 10.48 percent to 16.79 percent.
THS Principal Dr. Darius Williams said his school’s improvement was the result of a “huge collaborative effort between the counselling department and all of our senior level teachers. We are all committed to providing every opportunity for our students and their parents.”
Williams explained that school counselors set up times throughout the day to meet with parents one-on-one to facilitate the completion of the necessary forms and to save them for next year, if need be.
“There was some fear involved from a lack of knowledge with the parents,” he said. “We were trying to bridge that gap in the knowledge base.”
For the parents that could not make a meeting during the school day, teachers sent out correspondence requesting the necessary information. The teachers then sat down with the students, got them logged into the system and transferred the necessary information.
“The majority were able to get all the information transferred without any worries,” he said.
The application process was also moved back, which helped, Williams said.
“It used to be that this didn’t start until January, but pushing it back to October has really helped,” he said.
Talladega City Schools Superintendent Terry Roller emphasized that the system’s goal “is to create opportunities for students to be successful after graduating, whether they are pursuing a career or continuing their education at a community college, a four-year school or a university. … We are very excited about our students participating in and engaging in opportunities for continuing their education.”
Sylacauga High was the fifth award recipient, with an increase in complete from 26.67 percent to 38.37 percent.
Sylacauga City Schools Superintendent Dr. Todd Freeman said FAFSA is an important part of the process to help students attend college.
“It opens up so many possibilities for not just students, but also parents. Our counselors have had a major push on this program, showing students and parents how college can be more affordable. It helps students and parents complete these college applications,” he said.
Freeman said SHS counselors had made this program important when it comes to finding financial aid for students who want to go to college.
“We want to see more students and their parents go through this process,” the school superintendent said.
More than 300 schools participate in the “Cash for College Alabama” campaign, which is managed by Alabama Possible. The campaign promotes financial aid form completion through school counselors, career coaches and other educators at high schools across the state.
Students at the participating schools completed more than 9,000 FAFSAs from Oct. 1 to Dec. 1.
“High school seniors need to complete the form as early as possible so they can access the money they need for college,” Kristina Scott, executive director of Alabama Possible, said in the release. “We are thrilled to see so many Cash for College schools promoting early FAFSA completion, and we congratulate them for earning a Best Hustle Award.”
According to the release, “Any student seeking federal or state financial aid including grants, loans and work-study programs must complete the FAFSA, and
many students will qualify for Pell Grants of up to $5,920 per year.”
For more information, visit www.alabamapossible.org.
-- Staff writers Chris Norwood and Denise Sinclair contributed to this story.