Port St. Lucie High School one of only 50 high schools nationwide to receive inaugural School of Excellence award 

PORT ST. LUCIE – The efforts of Port St. Lucie High School staff coupled with the aid of Indian River State College representatives to help guide seniors through the college application process helped the campus become the first Florida school and one of only 50 in the nation to earn the inaugural School of Excellence Award.

St. Lucie County Schools Chief Academic Officer Helen Wild announced the award in December, which recognized PSLHS for exemplary work during the 2019-2020 school year with the Apply Yourself Florida initiative aimed at increasing college attendance among students from low-income households and those who would be the first in their homes to ever do so.

“This recognition is special because it honors the hard work of our counselors in ensuring that students have the support needed to navigate the college application process,” she said. “Port St. Lucie High has done a fantastic job in following up with students beyond the event, especially for first-generation college students. Our schools have been doing a big push in helping students plan for their future as our graduation rates have skyrocketed.”

The inaugural School of Excellence award was sponsored by both the Florida College Access Network and the American College Application Campaign, whose goal through Apply Yourself Florida was to provide additional assistance and follow-up to high school seniors working their way through the college admissions process. Port St. Lucie High School Guidance Counselor Monica Brooks spearheaded Apply Yourself Florida on her campus and was shocked to hear her team’s efforts had earned the school national acclaim.

“It was a humbling feeling to be the recipient of the inaugural award,” she said via email Dec. 30. “We are a small school but have a plethora of opportunities to prepare students for career and college readiness that can rival any other school in Florida.”

Ms. Brooks believes PSLHS got the attention of FCAN and ACAC because of staff efforts during college application week and the school’s comprehensive plan developed to educate families about postsecondary readiness opportunities. That effort began in September of 2019 with a career and college readiness night open to all grade levels.

“The goal was to educate families about all the opportunities available to students at PSL that lead to industry certifications and/or college credit,” she added. “All our program offerings were set up in a fair-type setting. Families were able to ask questions and get more information directly from teachers and IRSC representatives. We coupled the fair with breakout sessions for the parents and students.”

One of the components of the plan that helped PSLHS succeed was the scheduling of follow-up IRSC staff visits with students during the school day to ensure seniors were completing the next steps after submitting the admission application. This also helped the campus – augmented by the aid of IRSC Pruitt Campus Program Director Beth Amey – ensure students would see the application process through to college attendance in the fall. This helped prevent the summer melt of PSLHS seniors, a term referring to students who commit to attend college but never show up.

“Dr. Amey and her staff were able to identify students that had missing items that would prevent them from being able to register for fall classes,” Ms. Brooks explained. “The most challenging piece of the college application process is the transition process of students communicating and following up with specific college admissions representatives directly. It all goes back to the process of transitioning to autonomy. A basic college application can be completed in about 20 to 30 minutes, [but] it is the lack of follow through with the next steps that lead to summer melt for post-secondary education.”

Nearly 90 Port St. Lucie High School students participated in the IRSC application week that school year, with approximately half of those being low-income students or those who would be first-generation college students. Ms. Brooks, who spent 22 years with the Orange County School District before arriving at Port St. Lucie High School three years ago, said the most rewarding part of working as a guidance counselor for such students is seeing their transformation from adolescence to young adults.

“It is an intrinsic reward, knowing they have the ability and knowledge to access resources with a plan to get to the next phase of their lives,” she said.

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