Students set postsecondary goals

WILLMAR -- It's time for high school seniors to apply for college, and a new program at Willmar Senior High can help show them the way. Most Wednesdays, all the school's students gather in small groups with teacher advisers to prepare for graduat...

Ramp-Up to Readiness
Seniors at Willmar Senior High School discuss their experience so far with Ramp-Up to Readiness. Senior Charlie Hopman, front right, said the program “has helped me think about college.” Next to him is Jonathan Linden. At the back table is Emily Chermak, right, with Lizbeth Rios to her left. (Tribune photo by Rand Middleton)

WILLMAR - It’s time for high school seniors to apply for college, and a new program at Willmar Senior High can help show them the way.
Most Wednesdays, all the school’s students gather in small groups with teacher advisers to prepare for graduation and whatever they choose to do afterward.
Ramp-Up to Readiness is a program that will follow students from grades 9-12 as they gauge career interests, choose a postsecondary education path and learn how to apply for admission and financial aid.
The program places students in small advisory groups of 15 to 20 students to meet for a half hour a week with a teacher. They’ll meet with the same teacher from ninth grade to graduation. They will develop a plan for reaching their goals and for what they want to do after high school.
Ramp-Up was developed by the University of Minnesota College Readiness Consortium. Other area schools beginning the program this year are Yellow Medicine East and BOLD. The Minnesota River Valley Area Learning Center in Montevideo started the program a year ago.
The program will help the district meet the requirements of the new state law called World’s Best Workforce. One of the law’s goals is to prepare students for post-secondary education and careers. While Ramp-Up talks about college, it defines “college” as any type of postsecondary education.
According to the Minnesota Department of Education, 70 percent of jobs will require education beyond a high school diploma by 2018.
When advisory groups met last Wednesday, a group of seniors were discussing college applications with social studies teacher Eric Hjelden.

The students seem to appreciate the class, though some have already decided on a college before the school year started. Others haven’t made any college visits yet.
“I think a lot of you are feeling stressed,” Hjelden said to the class. Many nodded.
Hjelden said Ramp-Up has been a “reality check” for some because they have a lot to get done before they graduate.
Most of the students said they appreciate the class.
“It’s helping me think about college” said student Charlie Hopman.
Kalley Prahl said, “It’s going to benefit the younger kids more than us seniors; it’s kinda late for us.”
The group was split between those headed for two-year and four-year schools.
Lizeth Rios plans to start at Ridgewater College in Willmar to save money before heading to the University of Minnesota.
Ramp-Up is helping her learn what to do and what to expect, because she is the oldest child in her family and the first in her family to go to college, she said.
Jonathan Linden knows he’s going to start his post-secondary education with a year at Solid Rock Discipleship Program in Long Prairie. After that, it’s off to North Park University in Chicago or Lipscomb University in Nashville, both colleges for fine arts.
But Ramp-Up is still helpful, he said. “It’s not just knowing where you’re going to go but knowing what you’re going to do when you get there.”
In a room nearby, science teacher Pat Breen spoke to a group of sophomores about the reading and writing portions of the upcoming Plan test. The test is a precursor to the ACT and measures academic progress and what students need to do to prepare for success in high school and beyond.
The kids in Breen’s classroom may never have him for a regular science class, but he will be their Ramp-Up adviser until they graduate.
Breen had students follow along on their iPads as he talked about strategies that might help them on the test.
Breen explained that communications teachers in the sophomore advisory group had offered advice for the reading and writing sections. Next week, when they discuss math and science portions of the test, he and other teachers will offer their strategy ideas.
Breen told the students to read the questions before reading a passage, so they would know what to look for. Then he had them work on practice questions.
Students don’t have to “pass” the test, he said, but if they score below a certain level they could see further testing.
After the class, Breen said Ramp-Up offers an organized approach to preparing for testing.
“Everything about it is purposeful,” Breen said of Ramp-Up. “They might not recognize it now … but it’s something that’s going to be very, very helpful to all of our students.”
Even for students who will need to go right to work after high school, the knowledge of how to obtain a post-secondary education may still help them in the future.
Counselor Ben Dimond, who oversees Ramp-Up, said feedback from teachers and students has been mostly positive so far.
Teachers have told him they see how the program will benefit students, and they look forward to building long-term relationships with students.
Teachers have told him they enjoy working with people from other departments, too, he said. The advisers for each grade come from a variety of disciplines, and they prepare for each session as a group.
Some seniors are frustrated that the program has come too late for them, he said, and that is a shame.
Dimond is working on some ideas to address that. “We’re trying to be forward thinking,” he said. “This is something we want to continue to hone and make more enjoyable for both students and staff.”

Pat Breen
Pat Breen, a science teacher, speaks to sophomores in a Ramp-Up to Readiness class at Willmar Senior High. Breen meets with the same group of students each Wednesday for a half-hour class, which helps students prepare for life after high school. (Tribune photo by Rand Middleton)

In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: or phone 320-214-4340
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