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Program supports farsighted approach to college selection

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Libbey McKnight, left, offers Gabrielle Hill, a Rogers High School junior, advice on colleges.

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Gabrielle Hill has no doubts that college will be a part of her future.

What the 17-year-old is unsure about, though, is which college will suit her best - and how far away from home she really wants to go.

But she's not alone in trying to find answers to those types of questions. Gabrielle, a junior at Rogers High School, has been meeting recently with a representative from the newly created Northwest Ohio College Access Program. Advisers from the organization have started working with local students about college-related topics.

The program, which is part of the Ohio College Access Network, also will focus on things such as raising additional scholarship funds for students, sponsoring test preparation sessions, and providing year-round access for students to things ranging from financial aid information to the use of computer programs.

"There are other programs that keep kids in high school," said program director Libbey McKnight. "We take it a step further. We show them what's beyond high school and work with parents and kids."

Ms. McKnight, a former elementary school teacher, was hired in September to direct the Lucas County program, also called Think College Now. Similar efforts have been adopted in Wood, Hancock, and Allen counties in northwest Ohio, and in several dozen other counties across the state.

In Toledo, the effort is a result of collaboration among area school districts, colleges, and Rotary Clubs. Its home base is in downtown Toledo at The Source on Monroe Street.

So far, Ms. McKnight said advisers have been stationed in Libbey and Rogers high schools, and one will start at Springfield High School next month. She also is trying to arrange similar setups at two other Toledo-area schools for now.

On a recent weekday morning, Ms. McKnight sat in the Rogers library and talked with several students who are facing ongoing college issues. They included Felicia Hall, 17, who was searching both in books and online for colleges with strong architecture programs, and Chris Hair, also 17, who was taking his first career assessment test online.

With Gabrielle, Ms. McKnight kept the focus on the college tour the junior is taking to the East Coast this week. It marks Gabrielle's first official visit to college campuses.

Ms. McKnight was reassuring in her advice to Gabrielle, telling her it would be important to keep a journal about the schools and talk to people on campus about them.

"Ask the questions you want to know from the kids there," Ms. McKnight said.

Gabrielle responded knowingly: "They will not lie to you."

After the session, Gabrielle said the extra, individual help from Ms. McKnight has been helpful. "I wouldn't have done half this stuff until next year," she admitted.

Volunteer advisers affiliated with the program are not paid for their weekly visits to area high schools, but they could be in the future, Ms. McKnight said. The program is supported by private, public, and foundation money.

Ms. McKnight said the ultimate goal is to have a presence in as many as schools a possible, with a desire to set up future offices in those locations as well.

The addition of new advisers in their school was not seen as a threat by the three guidance counselors at Rogers, said guidance director D. Ward Ensign. He said the counselors try to help students with college-related questions, such as financial aid and scholarships, but they also have to focus on other things including the Ohio Graduation Test, proficiency tests, and even crisis-related issues.

"We roughly have 400 students each, which is why Libbey [McKnight] has been a godsend," Mr. Ensign said. "I just feel so fortunate that Rogers was chosen."

Contact Kim Bates at: kimbates@theblade.com or 419-724-6074.

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