Timberlake recognized for success with first-generation college students

College and career advisor Sebastian Kelley helped 110 seniors from Spirit Lake and surrounding small communities recognize their potential to attend college or trade school, earning Timberlake High School national recognition.

“I have a big heart for students,” Kelley said.

Timberlake is one of 27 high schools throughout the country recognized by the American College Application Campaign for efforts to increase the number of first-generation college students and students from low-income families pursuing a college degree. 

A majority of Timberlake’s seniors fall into both categories. 

In a three-day stretch, Kelley met one-on-one with every senior to help chart a postsecondary path.

Timberlake seniors met Gov. Brad Little for a roundtable conversation at Post Falls High School. From left, Zachary Paslay, Alycia Cameron, Sebastian Kelley (college and career advisor) and Zachary Schultz.

“There were not a lot of students who realized their potential to get into college or trade school. They never expected that they could do it, and that was shocking to me,” Kelley said.

Timberlake staff helped every senior complete Idaho’s Common Application, Apply Idaho, a platform that allows students to apply for 10 in-state colleges through a single application. 

Since applying, half the graduating class has stopped by Kelley’s office to let him know they were accepted to various colleges and universities.

“They were so surprised,” Kelley recalled.

Many assumed they would be rejected because of mediocre GPAs or because they’re from a lower-income community.

“A lot of people take a look at the Treasure Valley or Coeur d’Alene and believe those (local students) will be the first to get in, and not kids from small-town Idaho,” he said.

The new Idaho Launch program was fortuitous for Timberlake. The program pays up to 80% of the tuition and fees for students selecting in-demand careers, like nursing assistants, electricians or the construction trades.

“When they heard, they were more willing to apply to college,” Kelley said. 

Around 70% of his seniors were awarded Launch funds. He estimates that 60% will likely choose careers in the trade industries.

“I am so thankful for all the staff at Timberlake high, where we focus on college and career readiness. I believe these conversations need to be happening earlier in students’ lives, starting in elementary schools and in middle schools,” he said.

His colleagues agree. He recently received an invitation from an eighth-grade teacher to come back at the request of students to talk about academic options, career-technical opportunities through Kootenai Technical Education Campus in Rathdrum and options besides college.

“The kids actually asked for you to come back,” the message read.

Jenni Kimball, the State Board’s college and career advising program manager, said Kelley’s efforts really stood out. “Sebastian is a go-getter who directs his energy towards his student’s success.”

Kelley’s first calling was not education, but he uses his degree every day. He holds a bachelor’s in pastoral ministries and a master’s in divinity.

“I know how to talk to people and reach people,” he said. “As a person of faith, I believe that every one of these students has a calling in their life. I want to help them find the resources and programs.”

The American College Application Campaign campaign has been going on for five years and Timberlake is the first Idaho high school to be included on the list of excellence awardees.

Darren Svan

Darren Svan

Reporter Darren Svan has a background in both journalism and education. Prior to working for military schools at overseas installations, he was news editor at several publications in Wyoming and Colorado. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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