School Counselor Michael Bennie supports 350+ students at Arroyo Valley High School in San Bernardino, California. He works closely with each student, from their first days as high school freshmen. He serves within the Puente Project, which works to increase the number of educationally underserved and underrepresented students who earn degrees at four-year colleges and universities.
The Puente Project empowers students to succeed in college, and to return to the community as mentors for succeeding generations. As a long-time educator in his third year with the project, Bennie is always looking for ways to help students achieve their highest aspirations. “I love having conversations about kids’ dreams, and helping them realize their dreams,” Bennie said.
Bennie began using CollegeWeekLive’s High School Connect to organize online meetings between his students and schools such as Pepperdine University and California State University, Channel Islands. This would give his students an opportunity to text and video chat with admissions counselors from those schools in a small group setting, where they were more apt to open up and ask questions that would help them along in their college planning.
To make the most of the online meetings, Bennie shared a free lesson plan outlining “100 great questions to ask an admissions counselor,” and helped them to narrow down which of the questions were most important to them personally. This guide served well as a conversation starter.
Bennie also invited a select group of junior and senior students to attend CollegeWeekLive’s All Access Virtual College Fair, where they had the opportunity to chat online with current students and admissions counselors at hundreds of colleges and universities, and enter for a chance to win a scholarship. He made it clear that they were eligible to participate because of their high grades, and that they would have a pass to get out of class during that time. Students were encouraged to sign up using a Google form on the counseling website to reserve a space in the computer lab for the event.
“Online meetings are a great way to get students to begin to interact in real time with universities,” Bennie said. “Our freshmen students really hadn’t put much thought into college yet, so it’s great to have them start a dialogue with an admissions counselor, and get some first impressions of what it’s like to search for the right college match, and to consider how they’ll begin to realize their dreams,” Bennie said. “It’s a great exercise to help them begin to think critically about their college future.”
Approximately 30 students participated in the private chat, and around 75 in the All Access Fair. They found the online meetings very helpful. “Students like that they can ask questions directly or they can listen to what other students are asking and learn a lot that way as well. They had some great conversations. Our program focuses a lot on culture and our students tend to look at things through a cultural lens. They asked a lot of questions about culture and diversity at the schools they spoke with, and they learned quite a lot.”
To kick off the next college season, Bennie is hoping to invite his students and their parents to a family night where they both get involved in researching schools online.