The Associated Press
McCONNELSVILLE, Ohio - A group of 10 Ohio universities is helping redefine who's "college material" for high school students in the state's 29 Appalachian counties.
Poverty, low self-esteem and lack of information often keep Appalachian students from pursuing higher education, said Wayne White, who directs the Ohio Appalachian Center for Higher Education.
When the center opened at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth nearly 10 years ago, only 30 percent of students living in those counties attended college, compared with 41 percent statewide and 62 percent across the nation.
College attendance from the 49 participating high schools increased by half by 2000.
The center gives grants to the schools that pay for field trips to campuses and potential employers and practice ACT tests. Teachers are encouraged to wear sweat shirts from their alma maters and to find casual moments with students to discuss the future.
"Whatever we do, we try to make kids aware that there's college out there," said Janette Calendine, a guidance counselor at Morgan High School, in the heart of Morgan County.
The southeast Ohio county's unemployment rate, frequently the highest in the state, was 14.8 percent in May.
Stephanie Friend, who graduated from Morgan High, will visit Washington State Community College in Marietta with Calendine in the next few days.
Friend hopes to enroll in the automotive technician program there. Then Calendine will figure out how the student can make the daily 25-mile commute from her home in Stockport.
Friend, who transferred in April from Akron schools, said the program was the first to make her think college was possible for her. "They've been a lot more helpful here than in the big city," she said.
The program's success caught the attention of the Institute for Government Innovation at Harvard University, said Carl Fillichio of the Council for Excellence in Government. The nonprofit organization, which recognizes successful government programs, recently awarded the center a $100,000 grant to help teach others about the approach.
"Not only do they get them there (to college), they keep them there," he said from his office in Washington.
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