To land financial aid, time well-invested

January 23, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Wilde Lake High School senior Roderick Watkins sat in one of the school's guidance offices and listened intently, nodding his head now and then as Velma Green explained the steps of applying to college.

The topic: financial aid -- where and how to get it.

"There's a lot of money out there," said Ms. Green, a counselor with the nonprofit Maryland Educational Opportunity Center, a Baltimore-based group that helps disadvantaged and minority students and adults further their education.

In November, the group formed a partnership with the Howard County school system's Black Student Achievement Program to counsel students considering the military, a vocational school, a community college or a four-year university.

Getting financial aid, Ms. Green says, is simply a matter of finding scholarship and aid sources and completing the application.

But for students unfamiliar with the process, it can be complicated.

Roderick, 17, got helpful hints from Ms. Green, who visits the school every Wednesday to talk with small groups of students.

"It seems pretty good," he said afterward. "There's a lot of students here, and it's hard to get one-on-one service from the guidance counselors."

That's one reason Ms. Green's 25-year-old organization, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Education, has expanded its work in Howard County schools.

The center specializes in free, in-depth counseling for first-generation college-bound students; students with low grade-point averages; and students from low-income families.

It also helps other students and some adults in career and college preparation.

For the past three years, the center has been counseling students at Wilde Lake, Hammond and Oakland Mills high schools. The partnership with Black Student Achievement Program has allowed the center to expand to Atholton and Howard high schools as well.

The partnership also has enabled the center's counselors to ginto middle schools to help younger students choose a career or college path.

"There are students in Howard County, as well as in all systems, who need the support services and the personal touch," said Ellen D. Howard, the center's executive director.

"What we really have to do is get lots of information to the students to make them aware."

'Excellent service'

Roderick was already applying to four state schools when he met Ms. Green. But like many students, he needed help completing financial aid applications.

"Neither my mom nor I know how to do it," he said. "So it's a big

plus to have help. I know the sooner I get it in, the better it is. It's a lot easier having someone help you than doing it yourself."

Nora Scanlon, Wilde Lake guidance counselor, said the center and Ms. Green complement the work she and other school counselors do.

"The service is excellent," Ms. Scanlon said. "And Velma Green is just outstanding. She has knowledge we don't have."

While school counselors have general information about financial aid, Ms. Green has up-to-date data about changes in the program, which is regulated by the federal government.

Ms. Green has worked with the center, sponsored by the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., for 11 years.

She is the group's only counselor in Howard County, working with students in many different circumstances.

Some students have not taken college entrance exams, such as the SAT and ACT. Others have finished applying to college and need someone to proofread their applications.

And many others, from low- to upper-income families, need help determining if they're eligible and how to apply.

Ms. Green considers herself an extra resource for students, "someone who is literally here to take them by the hand and to see them one-on-one to help them reach their goal," she says.

"There are some kids who are not motivated and do not have a lot of support, so I have to step in and be a role model."

Students reap benefits

Former students say they have benefited from the center's help.

"It [gave] me a positive outlook into getting into places I didn't think I could get into," said Alain Douyon, a 1993 Oakland Mills High School graduate who is attending Morgan State University. "I was lucky to have Ms. Green. She was cool, and she talked to me frankly."

LeGerald Pulley II, an 18-year-old who graduated from Hammond High School last year, wanted to go to college, but had no idea how to get there. She had not even registered to take the SAT.

Ms. Green intervened and had the application fee waived for Howard Community College, where Ms. Pulley now studies early childhood development.

"She helped me a lot. She helped me with things I didn't know I had to do," Ms. Pulley said. "She runs a very good program to help high school students get a head start before going to college."

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