Methow Valley Public School Funding Alliance

College advisor position expands this year through PSFA and district support

I want kids to find the best fit for them. If it’s Yale or Princeton, or Wenatchee Valley College, or Lake Washington Technical College, I’m going to help them all the same way.” Whether a student is contemplating trade school after graduating from high school, or has sights set on a prestigious four-year college, information and support are essential to helping students plan for their future after graduation.

To ensure all students at Liberty Bell High School and the Independent Learning Center graduate with the widest range of post-secondary educational, vocational and career-related opportunities possible, Public School Funding Alliance is partnering with Methow Valley School District to significantly expand the college advisor position this year.

"I recognize the diversity in our families and understand that what might be right for one student may not be a good fit for another," said Erika Spellman, who is the new high school college advisor.

"I work individually with students and their families to help them develop and achieve their post-graduation goals –whether that is applying to a four-year, two-year or technical college, designing a productive gap year plan, or entering the military or workplace," Spellman said.

Spellman brings experience as a teacher and as a college and career advisor in the Edmonds and Shoreline school districts in the Seattle area. She and her family moved to the Methow Valley in 2015.

She recently returned from taking 22 juniors and seniors on a college tour field trip to Spokane. Students visited Whitworth College, Eastern Washington University and attended the Spokane College Fair.

"The trip was inspirational, eye-opening, emotional and educational for each and every student," she said.

Among the group of 22 students on the tour, only five came from families with parents who had attended college. For these first generation college-bound students and their parents, contemplating college "can be daunting," Spellman said.

The Methow Valley has many first generation college students. Being the first in their family to go to college can be a benefit. "When you are a first generation college student, universities and colleges are eager to help provide not only financial assistance if needed, but other scholarship opportunities specific to their situation," Spellman said.

In fact, just coming from a rural area and small school district like the Methow Valley can help students in their application to college.

"When college recruiters look at a map and see that students come from here, it works in their favor," she said. Colleges strive to create diverse student bodies, and that means including students from rural school districts.

Spellman works closely with seniors and juniors and their parents to help them through the complex process of applying to college – making college lists, completing applications, writing essays, evaluating financial aid needs, and preparing for the SAT and ACT tests.

Even for parents who attended college or have advanced degrees, the college application process has become complicated, challenging and competitive, she said.

"Applying to college should be a fun and exciting process, but at times it can be a bit overwhelming," Spellman said. "The process has changed so much and keeps changing. When I applied to school the University of Washington was a ‘safety school.’ Now that’s not the case."

Part of her work is cultivating the idea of college and careers in students at an early age. To do that she plans on spending time with 7th and 8th grade students to develop post-high school career and college "vision boards." Students will create posters to illustrate what they envision for their future.

"It’s kind of like planting the seed and educating them on careers and the training they need for those careers. Is it a four-year degree, two-year degree or trade school?"

Although her title is "college advisor" Spellman stresses that she works to help students plan for a variety of post-graduation education and career options.

"I’m working to introduce them to different career pathways and career fields. A welder is a career field, an electrician is a career field," she said. "I want kids to find the best fit for them. If it’s Yale or Princeton, or Wenatchee Valley College, or Lake Washington Technical College, I’m going to help them all the same way."

To help students and parents with their planning, Spellman hosts college and career information evenings; works with the school guidance counselor to make sure 9th and 10th graders are taking classes needed for college admission; holds college application, essay and financial aid workshops; and leads college tours.

Spellman feels that having an advisor in the schools to work with students specifically on post-graduation planning is essential to their success after high school.

"That is kind of the point. We tell students, ‘We want you to graduate and go off into the world and be successful.’ Having access to a college advisor, one more person in their corner, makes their chances of a successful future that much brighter."

Methow Valley PSFA