Gearing Up for Michigan College Month

Michigan College Month is part of a national initiative with the goal to provide every graduating high school senior the opportunity to apply to college and for financial aid. Special focus is placed on assisting students who would be the first in their families to attend college and students who may not have otherwise seriously considered applying to college. Michigan College Month can open the door for students by encouraging them to take the most significant steps toward college in their senior year. Michigan College Month emphasizes the relationship between applying to and paying for college and helps break down some of the most complex and commonly cited barriers to attending college.

Joan Helwig is a school counselor at Marlette Junior/Senior High School, a rural school located in the Thumb of Michigan.

This is my eighth year at Marlette where I serve about 400 students in grades 7-12. Prior to coming to Marlette, I worked as a middle school counselor in three different school districts for 20+ years.

A profile of the student body at Marlette shows that about 57% of our students qualify for free/reduced lunch, approximately half of each graduating class self-report as being first generation college-going students, and about 40-50% qualify for the Tuition Incentive Program (TIP). This profile drives many of the decisions I make regarding the career and college access services I provide.   

As the end of September quickly approaches, my focus is on planning and preparing for Michigan College Month (MCM) in October. We started participating in College Application Week (CAW) in 2013, so this has become an annual event as I plan out my school counseling calendar each year. The focus of the statewide initiative back then was on helping seniors navigate the college admissions process and having every senior complete at least one college application during a designated week in October.

Fast forward to 2018 and we’re busy planning and preparing for a month of college and career focused activities and events during Michigan College Month (MCM). While the major focus of MCM is on providing seniors with opportunities to apply to college and for financial aid (filing the FAFSA), I take advantage of the opportunity to build a college-going culture in our building by planning activities and events for all grade levels (7-12) throughout the month. By doing so, all students are exposed to “college knowledge” beginning in the seventh grade. Of course it is time-consuming to plan activities for all grade levels, but we are slowly making progress at changing the college-going culture in our building, as a result. Each year I review what we did the year before and try to incorporate something new into our plan to make it even better. Having a college adviser for the past two years to assist in the planning is definitely a huge help.

Just as it takes a whole village to raise a child, it takes the entire staff to build a college-going culture in the building, and there is no way that I could do it alone. I involve our entire staff every year by sharing an overview of the MCM activities planned at the October staff meeting. Email reminders are sent out during the month so they don’t forget upcoming events and activities. Since all students have an English class, I work directly with the English teachers to incorporate career and college themed lessons throughout the month. I plan the curriculum and lessons for each grade level and provide the materials and resources the teachers need to present the information to their students. The month-long structure of MCM provides flexibility in our schedule to best serve our students and families.

I am so appreciative of the Michigan College Month resources and prizes that MCAN provides, and also for the networking among school counselors in the state that has resulted from participation in Michigan College Month. Many MCM ideas and resources shared through the Counselor Learning Community, spearheaded by MCAN, have saved me valuable time not having to create on my own.

Our commitment to participating in Michigan College Month will continue because ALL students are involved, regardless of their post-secondary plans. Our students who will be the first in their family to attend college and those who qualify for TIP know there’s a major effort to reach out to them during MCM. It’s a great way to “kick-off” the senior year tasks and leads into the College Cash Campaign and Decision Day, which we also participate in. The positive influence and value of MCM is evident every year when we compile the data and review our impressive results of the month’s activities.

The students and staff at Marlette Junior/Senior High School look forward to another productive and meaningful Michigan College Month in 2018!


Author: Joan Helwing, Marlette Jr./Sr. High School Counselor
Posted: Oct. 9, 2018 


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