Program achieves 100 percent college acceptance at H–WHSD’s Central High School

ByHelena World Staff

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Thanks to the Delta College Attainment Network (DCAN), every single senior in the Helena-West Helena School District (HWHSD) has been accepted into at least one college or university.

The mission of DCAN, which is funded by the Walton Family Foundation in partnership with participating local school districts, is to get students into college or other post-secondary education programs. Run by full-time on-site “college advisors,” DCAN helps students identify the right colleges for them, apply to those colleges, and apply for scholarships to enable them to attend.

“We encourage all students to apply to at least five colleges or universities,” said Central High School (CHS) college advisor Tonisha Gant. “It’s important to have options.”

DCAN organizes both college visits as well as on-site college fairs.

“I’m so grateful for the college visits,” said Brianna Hardison, a CHS senior and lifelong resident of Helena-West Helena. “I got to visit one of my top choices and realized that it wasn’t for me. It would have been terrible if I hadn’t realized that before showing up on the first day.”

On Dec. 8, Central High School – in partnership with the State Chamber’s “Be Pro Be Proud” program – will be hosting a college and career fair for grade 9-12 students at which colleges, trade programs, and local employers will be in attendance.

“Whether our students choose to attend college or pursue other post-secondary educational opportunities such as trade school or the military, we feel it essential that every student have a university education as an option,” said Gant.

In addition to getting students into college, DCAN is committed to ensuring that students successfully graduate. For the last two years, Central High Schools’ college advisors visited and spent a day at nearly every college campus in Arkansas at which H-WHSD alumni were enrolled.

“We were there to see if they needed help, to help them deal with any hiccups they encountered,” said Gant. The program now employs dedicated “alumni advisors” whose full-time job is to make these follow-up visits to all alumni from participating districts (in this case, H-WHSD and KIPP Delta from Phillips County) whose students are enrolled in post-secondary programs.

DCAN also encourages students to participate in summer programs on college campuses.

“It has been shown that students who participate in on-campus summer programs are more likely to go to college and stay there,” said Central High School college advisor Beth Thompson.

As of the most recent state report available (2015-2016), both HWHSD’s acceptance rate (100 percent) and matriculation rate (67 percent) were well above state average (50.5 percent for the latter).

“It’s an important initiative because it helps kids that come from this impoverished area to thrive,” said Brianna’s mother, Cynethia Otis. “They make the kids go the extra mile for their own education.”

“DCAN has helped me apply to 27 colleges, of which I’ve gotten into 19 so far,” said Hardison. “The college advisors are so helpful. You’re never on your own with anything, whether that be choosing a college, applying for scholarships, or anything else you need to be successful.”

The day before, Hardison learned that she had been awarded the Trustee Scholarship from Newbury College in Massachusetts, a full ride to the 4-year liberal arts college worth $128,000.