By Sean Quigley
Throughout the first semester of my senior year at Summit Denali High School I often found myself struggling with the process of applying to college. Questions regarding college applications that I asked faculty or my mentor were usually met with confusion or delay, as they were either stretched thin between multiple students or not properly trained to answer my inquiries.
Summit Denali High School, a member of the Summit Public Schools network in Washington and California, has long proclaimed the importance of college preparation within its curriculum. When put under scrutiny, however, Denali’s ability to prepare students for higher education shows itself to be surprisingly mediocre.
In some aspects, Denali succeeds in providing preparation for students going into college. Summit Denali mentor Tini Raman stated that one of the school’s most effective efforts to prepare students for college is by providing clear deadlines and personalized check-ins. She said, “There’s a lot of support in the school for looking over essays and just, in general, reminding them of all the deadlines for CSUs and UCs and just making sure everyone is on track.”
In a similarly positive light for the school’s college readiness support, Summit Denali senior Scott James drew attention to the benefits Denali’s independent curriculum had on his ability to study going into college, stating, “I felt more independent in my studies and more responsible for my work and actually reaching out to get test assistance,”
Although Summit Denali High School does provide useful education and support for students going into college, both students and mentors, the faculty at Summit schools in charge of monitoring college readiness, agree that Summit Denali’s college readiness program remains flawed in its planning and execution, especially during college applications in senior year.
Scott James felt that Summit did not give enough guidance during the college application process. He said, “I feel I would have benefited most from being guided through… an example of a college application so that I would have known all the different parts and steps to complete an application.”
Tini Raman seemed to agree, condemning the lack of focus the school gave toward guiding students in filling out college applications in detail. She said, “the nitty gritty, the specifics, we need to spend more time on that and maybe not as much on the big picture.”
Difficulty in filling out college applications in detail seems to be common in schools other than Summit Denali, suggesting that guidance on how to navigate and understand the college application process is a crucial factor in college readiness that Denali must invest in further.
Celeste Howard, college counselor for Community Learning Center Schools in Alameda stated that students found that filling out the more intricate parts of their college applications was what they often had the most difficulty with. She stated, “It depends, so like [with] the actual application, it’s ensuring they’re entering their classes correctly like they’re putting the right classes in,”
One way Denali could help to directly guide students through the college application process is by hiring a professionally trained college counselor. Currently, the role of a college counselor is taken by mentors in the Summit Public Schools network, who are more often than not trained to be teachers rather than counselors.
When asked about her role as a college counselor in encouraging college readiness, Celeste Howard revealed the important roles and benefits a college counselor can have during the college application process. She said, “I speak to the students individually to make sure that they’re all good and on track… I’ll sit with them and help them with each step of the way.”
Denali’s flaws are present throughout the entire Summit Public Schools network, as all schools in the network use the same seminars and mentor structure as Denali. If Denali’s college readiness program is to be improved, aspects from schools outside the summit network may have to be acknowledged.