Advising Two Schools, Achieving One Goal

AdviseMI is an initiative of the Michigan College Access Network that works with AmeriCorps to place recent college graduates in Michigan high schools with low college-going rates. The advisers are trained to help students navigate the complex college exploration process, retake college admissions tests, apply to colleges that are a good match/fit, complete the FAFSA, secure financial aid, and matriculate to college.

Mary Wilson is a second-year adviser who serves at Relevant Academy and Maple Valley High School (both located in Eaton County).

My goal, along with the fifty-five other College Advisers placed across the state, is to increase the percentage of Michigan residents who earn postsecondary credentials and to boost the college-going culture of the districts I serve. My experience is unique in the fact that the schools I serve are polar opposites: my week is split between a traditional rural high school and a suburban, virtual alternative school.

Within my traditional school, my college awareness initiatives are immersive. There are structured class times and lockers for me to decorate and a gym that I can pack full for our Decision Day celebration. It is relatively easy to pull our seniors together and meet with them all at once. On the flip side, my alternative school occupies the space of one hallway. Our students work individually on an online curriculum and report to school at varying times that work best for them. As a result, I have to be more cognizant of the time I have with them and more creative with the ways I capture their attention. Most of my advising happens one-on-one and our celebrations are more personal. I have more time to dedicate to building relationships with them. I’m able to collaborate more closely with the staff. This dynamic presents a unique set of rewards and challenges.

Splitting my week between two schools sometimes makes me feel like a celebrity, but more often than not, I feel like I am split in half. Ms. Wilson at the traditional school carries herself much differently than Mary at the alternative school and their days look nothing alike. My reception varies by the building and by the day. I’ve had countless programs that were a hit at one school and a flop at the other. Just like my students are ever-evolving, my tactics need to be too.

Despite their vast differences, my students are connected by one common thread: determination. They dream big. They break down barriers. They unapologetically pursue their goals, even if they are the first in their family to do so! Although I was placed in these communities as a resource for them, my students have taught me more than I could ever possibly teach them. They give me daily opportunities to spread compassion and to be selfless. They keep me on my toes. They make me laugh. Best of all, they remind me that we are in no way at the mercy of circumstance: each of our lives can be transformed with one step, one conversation, or one acceptance letter.

While serving two schools has brought double the challenges, I have undoubtedly reaped twice the rewards. The shift of the college-going culture in our communities has been tangible and I am better for having witnessed it. I’m sure many of my AdviseMI peers would say the same.


Author: Mary Wilson, second-year AdviseMI Adviser
Maple Valley High School & Relevant Academy  
Posted: Oct. 2, 2018 

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