For college-bound high school students, the decision about where to pursue their higher education ranks as one of the biggest of their lives. Too often, it can be made out of convenience, without thorough research or a full understanding of which institution is the best match for a students’ skills. The Rogers Honors Academy is changing that dynamic for students in Rogers, Arkansas. Launched by Rogers Public Schools in 2017 with support from the Walton Family Foundation, the program helps high school students prepare themselves academically for top-tier colleges and to find the one best suited to their skills and interests. We talked to Carla Fontaine, director of the Rogers Honors Academy, about the program’s mission and vision for students.
Can you describe what the Rogers Honors Academy is and what it does for students?
Carla: The Rogers Honors Academy works with high-achieving students to help them reach their potential. We work with them starting in the 10th grade to help prepare them so they're academically ready to succeed in college and taking classes of rigor through their sophomore, junior and senior year. And we help them figure out how their interests and strengths can lead to a potential major or field of study, so they can choose a college that's a really good fit. We take students to visit college campuses and help them learn about important factors – like freshman retention rate, size and philosophy of the school, the availability of financial aid and scholarships. We want them to consider the whole package and learn to be discriminating consumers of higher education.
Why is a program like this so valuable?
Carla: There’s a great need. We have a lot of students in Rogers who are first-generation college-goers. And there is a lot of racial and socioeconomic diversity among our students. There are many students who are learning to think about financial aid and expand the options open to them because of financial aid. What so many students and parents don't realize is that there are selective colleges out there that are willing to give high amounts of financial aid to bring students from this area of the country to their campus. These are colleges looking for diversity and actively recruiting in admissions for diversity. They're looking for students who are more than just their GPA or their standardized test score. They're looking for students who are involved in their communities, and who are thinking beyond themselves. Part of the work we do in the academy is helping students think about what their strengths are, and what are the contributions they can make. So they see themselves beyond just a student, and see themselves as real people out in the real world, making real contributions.
Why is choosing the right college so important?
Carla: You just don't know how your path will change as a result of the school you go to. How many of us really had counseling or a thoughtful approach when we chose the school that we were going to? We want to expand the thinking about what the options are for college. That's what our work is all about – unlocking opportunity. Students are doing well in school, they're achieving at a high level, but they're not sure what that means for them, or what the possibilities are beyond that achievement. They just need guidance about how to get to where they need to be to make dreams a reality. Our motto is, explore, excel and transform. We want to help students explore their interest, their strengths and their passions.
Decisions on colleges aren’t exclusively made by students. Parents play a big role, too. What support does the Rogers Honors Academy offer for parents in addition to the services for students?
Carla: Many of our students have parents who are very committed to helping their son or daughter go to college, but they really don't know how to think about what the needs are or how to prepare them. The academy works with parents, so they understand what colleges are looking for and about financial aid and scholarships. They can start to see that it is a possibility for their son or daughter.