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story.lead_photo.caption Carla Fontaine, director of Rogers Honors Academy, speaks Feb. 12 during an induction ceremony for the academy's inaugural class. - Photo by Ben Goff

ROGERS -- A recent out-of-state college visit opened Keiry Echeverria's eyes to the possibilities that await her after high school.

She and eight other Rogers high school students piled into a School District van in November for a 10-hour trip to the Minneapolis area, where they visited and toured Carleton College, Macalester College and St. Olaf College.

Higher expectations

About 1.3 percent of the Rogers School District’s graduates go on to enroll in a top-100 national college or university or a top-50 liberal arts school, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report. One of the district’s goals for the Honors Academy is to boost that figure to at least 3 percent for this year’s senior class.

Source: Staff report

Echeverria, 16, said she discovered she liked St. Olaf's atmosphere and culture and said she'll apply to the school of about 3,000 students in Northfield, Minn. She didn't know the school existed before the trip, Echverria said.

The Rogers Honors Academy, a district program designed to help high-performing students explore career choices and find the best colleges for them, sponsored the trip. The academy is available to students at each of the district's three high schools who have at least a 3.7 grade point average and are taking at least two Advanced Placement, pre-Advanced Placement or college-level courses.

The program launched Feb. 12 with the induction of 204 sophomores. Another group of 218 sophomores and seven juniors joined during a Nov. 12 ceremony, according to Carla Fontaine, academy director.

Echeverria, a New Technology High School junior who joined with the first group, intends to be the first from her family to go to college. She used to think out-of-state schools were too expensive and out of reach, but she said the Honors Academy made her reconsider.

"I feel like I have a more open mind," Echeverria said. "There's merit aid. There's student loans. There's scholarships I can use to go out of state."

Sidra Nadeem, 16, a fellow New Tech junior and Honors Academy student, agreed.

"I didn't realize how much I didn't know about colleges and the financial process until I got here," Nadeem said. "I thought it was just, the price you see on the website is what you're going to have to pay."

The Walton Family Foundation gave the Honors Academy a three-year grant of $280,000. The foundation's support is rooted in its desire to ensure students have a variety of educational options, said Kim Davis, senior education program officer for the foundation's Home Region Program.

One of the foundation's goals for the program was to have at least 40 percent of the participants come from underserved populations: racial minority groups, English language learners and those who qualify for free or reduced-price meals at school. Currently, 42 percent of Honors Academy students fall into at least one of those categories, Davis said.

"The School District has done a really good job of focusing on and making sure those kids have the kind of support they need," she said.

Fontaine detailed activities the Honors Academy sponsored over the past year during a presentation she made to the School Board last month. A small but dedicated group of students used a day of their spring break to visit the University of Tulsa. Another group traveled to Tulsa in October to meet with representatives of several highly selective schools, including Brown University, Rice University and University of Chicago.

A Harvard student from Missouri and a Yale University student from Rogers came in to talk to Honors Academy students.

Fontaine said she's offered other sessions for students on topics such as how to present yourself to college admissions officials and how to research colleges. They learn to compare schools and how to look at freshman retention, Fontaine said.

About 25 academy students participated in a free weekend retreat at Camp War Eagle in October where they did team-building activities and began developing the essays they'll write for their college applications.

Kimberly Trejo, 16, a junior at New Tech High School, was among those who went on that trip. She overcame her fear of heights in successfully finishing the camp's ropes course. That gave her confidence she can overcome other fears, such as going away for college, she said.

"I know that people are going to be there for me, and they won't let me fall, or let me just stay there and panic," said Trejo, who is taking a good look at Washington University in St. Louis.

Trejo said most students accepted to Washington University have received at least a 32 on their ACT, a score she's unsure she can achieve. Fontaine told her she could still get in.

"We met today during first hour and she gave me some more colleges to look at," Trejo said of Fontaine.

Fontaine, a Springdale native, spent years working at Harvard University before becoming the founding director of the Honors Academy last year. She spends time at each of the district's three high schools. College pamphlets decorate her office walls at New Tech. A massive book detailing all the majors a college student may pursue sits among the items on her desk.

Echeverria said before joining the Honors Academy, she had low expectations for her future. Her experience with the academy has changed her outlook.

"I actually do have this potential to exceed my own expectations. That's what I've learned about myself," she said.

NW News on 12/26/2017

Print Headline: Rogers Honors Academy picking up steam in second year

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