By A.M. Sheehan
OXFORD HILLS — Summer Melt. No it’s not a dripping ice cream cone on a hot day.
It is a phenomenon educators call the summer melt when high school graduates who plan to go to college never make it.
The term has been long used by college admissions offices, according to the Harvard University Center for Education Policy Research Summer Melt Handbook, to refer to the tendency of some students to pay a deposit at one institution and then go to another.
However, the phenomenon of “college-intending” students who have completed all the pre-college steps during high school but fail to actually attend has adopted the same descriptor.
The college process is overwhelming and stressful for all high school students and parents. The research, the applications, the essays, the SATs, the financial aid forms, choosing classes, testing for placement, a plethora of correspondence from the school, the list goes on.
For low-income or first-generation students this road to matriculation can be even more confusing and overwhelming, and without access to guidance counselors or knowledge of support services, they often simply give up.
Based on data gathered by Harvard researchers and a national longitudinal study the rate of “melt” can be as high as 40 percent.
Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School Director of Guidance Nancy McClean and her intern, Brianne Fecteau, a student at Hussein University who has just landed her first job as a school counselor in Standish, are doing something about Summer Melt in the SAD 17 district.
OHCHS is one of the two schools in the state that are addressing the issue through a pilot program funded by the Finance Authority of Maine (FAME), the (Maine Educational Loan Marketing Corporation) MELMAC Education Foundation and the Maine College Access Network (MaineCAN). To date, the pilot has cost the district nothing.
Beginning at the end of the spring semester, the two visited English classes to let students know that over the summer they could get assistance with any issues, questions or problems they might have in the college process.
Then, over the summer, says McClean, “Bri has been doing the majority of the contact work.”
This means email, texting and phone calls following up, checking in and seeing if any student needs help to stay on track to start college in the fall.
“Most of the work we have been doing,” continues McClean, “is allowing them to take their ACCUPLACER testing.”
ACCUPLACER is a College Board testing service used by more than 1,500 institutions as part of the enrollment process. It tests entering students in math, reading and writing to identify strengths and needs in each subject area. The results are used by institutions to help students choose courses to ensure their best chance for success.
“And we are here to help just graduated seniors get over any barriers that might have come up over the summer,” adds Fecteau.
“For example, we might find we need to hire a bus to get a group of students to an orientation,” McClean cites as a possible example, although that has not come up yet this summer.
And then there are students, McClean says, who have been accepted but have not applied for financial aid yet or they can’t get to orientation or they don’t understand the process of housing sign up and class sign up or they get letters saying they need ACCUPLACER testing, or their scores are too low and they will need a remedial class but at college cost so they might want to take the class here instead … .
“We have some [students] who decide over the summer they want to go to college,” says Fecteau.
“We’ve had kids who couldn’t find jobs [after graduating] or thought they would go into the military but something has kept that from happening,” adds McClean.
Fecteau says she knew a lot of students in the Houlton area when she was graduating high school who could have used this help.
“This is the first time this program has been used in Maine,” says McClean. “Both of the [two] schools have an intern.
“Trying to do this pilot without an intern would be impossible as I have to do it along with my regular summer duties,” she adds.
She notes that after the fall surveys they do each year, they will see the percentage of kids who have followed through and by spring, she expects, they will know if it has increased.
So far, they agree, they have worked with about a dozen kids. They have some, they say, they will follow through the end of August.
Fecteau says she has had contact with the whole senior class at least once and then focused on about 70 students and of those 70, about 12 needed active help.
This all came about, recalls McClean, after being invited to a meeting over the winter last year. The meeting had reps from colleges around the state as well as high school counselors.
McClean laughs, saying she might have a bigger mouth than some, making OHCHS stand out. “Maybe we spoke up more at the first meeting … .”
“Nokomis [High School in Newport] and us, [we] were invited to the next meeting and asked to participate.”
The two schools’ two interns are part of Hussein Univerity’s school counselor program, intern program. To graduate, all students in the counselor program must have 600 hours on internship.
“The school (OHCHS) is very supportive of our efforts with students,” says McClean. “The school and the district does anything [it can] to support students.”
Later this month they will have the privilege of having lunch with Benjamin Castleman, University of Virginia author of the Summer Melt book, with Lindsey Page, University of Pittsburg.