College graduates mentor Post Falls students

Every student at Post Falls High is personally exposed to post secondary education opportunities because of a program that places recent college graduates face to face with high school students.

The Near Peer Mentor program, funded by a federal grant filtered through the State Board of Education, is essential to improving college go-on rates, principal Chris Sensel said.

“We would not have a college and career center if not for this grant,” Sensel said. “I can’t emphasize enough how important it is.”

Post Falls Near Peer
Tiffany Beebe and Katalina Chacon, college graduates mentoring students at Post Falls High, stand in front of their “Great Wall of Scholarships.”

About 54 percent of Post Falls seniors from the class of 2014 enrolled in college within 12 months of graduating high school, according to a State Board of Education report. The state average is about 50 percent.

“We don’t have data yet that supports what the program is doing, but we have a lot more kids getting scholarships than ever before,” said Sensel about the three-year-old program.

Eleven Idaho high schools have been receiving federal grant funding for the Near Peer program, but the money runs out in August. Gov. Butch Otter proposed in January the state invest $5 million for college and career advising in Idaho public schools to increase the number of your adults who earn college degrees or certificates. His proposal will be considered by the Legislature.

At Post Falls, the Near Peer program supports two full-time employees — Tiffany Beebe and Katalina Chacon, both are college graduates pursuing advanced degrees.

Beebe and Chacon have a classroom space devoted to college and career readiness. They created “The Great Wall of Scholarships,” which features envelopes taped to the wall and stuffed with fliers and forms. It’s the result of their “countless hours of researching” to benefit Post Falls kids.

“We also do a lot of activities like raffles and prizes to motivate students to fill out applications,” Chacon said.

Post Falls hosted a College Application Week and 246 of the 302 seniors participated and more than 200 applications were completed.

“We talk to every senior and every junior individually,” Beebe said. “We talk to them about our experience and they come back and ask us questions.”

Students at Post Falls are first exposed to college and careers as freshmen when they take a survey to reveal their strengths and interests and connect those to possible careers, what those careers pay and the road to prepare for those careers. By their junior year, the students are exposed to how college or technical programs transition into careers.

They learn about jobs or find connections to careers from their interests. For example, if a student is interested in helping people and they like hands-on activities, possible careers would be in the nursing field.

“More kids are setting goals for the their futures,” Beebe said. “But much of what we do helps them think college is possible.”