Parma gets kids into college

Marisol Gallegos
Marisol Gallegos

Marisol Gallegos will be the first in her family to go to college because of the Bruce Mitchell Foundation, her high school teachers and her Parma community. They all place a high priority on postsecondary education.

Gallegos, a Parma High School senior, is headed to Northwest Nazarene University with all of her tuition paid. Her 3.8 GPA guarantees her benefiting from five different local scholarships, including a big chunk from the Bruce Mitchell Foundation. Mitchell died in the early 1990s and left his estate to help Parma kids go to college. He received help when he was an engineering student at the University of Idaho and he wanted to pay it forward.

At least 40 students a year benefit from Mitchell’s donation, which can cover students’ entire college career as long as they maintain a 3.0 GPA. Today, the foundation funds more than 100 college students from Parma.

This year, 42 of Parma’s 86 seniors applied for a Mitchell Foundation grant and just about all of them will get it, provided they have a 3.0 GPA and succeed in an interview process conducted by the foundation’s board.

“For a lot of kids, that’s what gets them there,” Parma High Principal David Carson said.

Parma students have a handful of other local scholarships they can apply for and Gallegos said she’ll count on those in her postsecondary career.

But it’s not just the scholarships that get 75 percent of Parma High graduates into college. (Of the nearly 150 districts and charters in Idaho, only 13 send more than 73 percent of their gradates to college. The Idaho average go-on-to-college rate is 54 percent.)

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Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 2.54.29 PMThe staff puts a high priority on helping students prepare for life beyond high school. Conversations and planning for the future begin in the eighth grade.

“We want our kids to be prepared when they leave here in whatever they want to do,” Carson said. “Everybody — teachers, parents, students — is working toward that goal.”

Several Parma initiatives promote college preparedness:

  • The Bruce Mitchell Foundation and other local scholarships.
  • Seniors are required to take a full class load.
  • Parma’s graduation standards exceed state requirements.
  • Dual-credit classes give students a taste of what college rigor is like. A deferred payment plan helps parents pay for concurrent credits.
  • Students plan their high school careers in the eighth grade and document their progress over the coming years with an electronic portfolio. A reflection of the journey, including a look ahead, is the topic of the senior project.
  • A school counselor is devoted to helping students and parents with the process of getting into college. “(It’s) a monumental challenge to overcome for many of our students,” Carson said.
  • Graduates also most complete an “Area of Concentration” and there are a variety of choices, including auto mechanics, nursing or college prep.

Gallegos chose the college preparation strand, which led to earning 12 college credits. After multiple college fairs and campus visits, she chose NNU.

“I’ve had a lot of one-on-one time with adults who tested me and helped me,” she said. “Parma is a great school. I’m really grateful I came from here.”

Parma’s high school also earns top academic marks — a “five” on Idaho’s five-star rating system.

“The five-star rating is a result of having great teachers that work together and want to improve,” Carson said.

The community also helps. Levies and bonds have been approved regularly over the past 20 years.

“It’s a culture here where everyone supports education,” Carson said. “Our community, school board and administration all work together to provide a great school environment.”