“Congratulations to J'Tyia Thomas for being accepted to Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, University of Arkansas at Little Rock and The University of Memphis.”
That celebratory message was posted on the morning of Nov. 17, 2017 to Central High’s Facebook page – a recognition of student achievement that became a regular occurrence over the past year at the school, in Helena-West Helena, Arkansas.
For the first time in its history, every member of Central’s graduating class – the Class of 2018 – was accepted to college. The accomplishment marked the realization of a goal not only for the students but also for the Delta College Attainment Network (DCAN).
Created by KIPP Delta Public Schools in partnership with the Helena-West Helena and Cross County School Districts and supported by the Walton Family Foundation, DCAN aims to increase college access and graduation rates for students in the Delta region.
The program places college advisors in each participating school to work individually with students beginning in their junior year. Advisors prepare students for admissions testing, provide college counseling and organize visits to in-state and out-of-state colleges and universities. They also help with scholarship applications and the financial aid process.
At Central High School, the DCAN collaboration is building bridges between the charter and traditional district school sectors. And it is paying off with a wealth of new opportunities for students like J’Tyia Thomas, who has received scholarships for academic excellence.
“To be the first class here at Central High School to have 100% acceptance rate into college, I am excited about that. It feels good to be a part of it,” she says. “Once we realize our dreams, we'll be able to come back to our community and make a difference.”
In all, J’Tyia received more than a dozen college acceptance letters. She credits her advisor, Tomisha Gant, for guiding her through the process and making it easier to manage.
Once we realize our dreams, we'll be able to come back to our community and make a difference.
“Miss Tomisha has been more than a college advisor. She's been a friend,” J’Tyia says. “She's loving and she gives tough love if you need it. She encourages you to stay in school, to apply for scholarships. She makes sure that you're on top of it and she lets you know your options if things don't go the way you plan them.”
Tomisha, a Helena-West Helena native who graduated Central High in 2003, has been a college advisor for four years at the school.
Over that time, she says students have become more confident and optimistic about their chances of attending college, because they see their classmates’ success.
“We have smart, exceptional students here, and we have a lot of potential that I don't think people really give us the credit for,” Tomisha says.
Students respond to educators who respect them and believe in them, she says.
“Sometimes students just don't have anyone rooting for them. I feel like, well, if nobody else is going to do it, I will,” she says.
One of the reasons Central High posts college acceptances to Facebook – and includes them in the school’s morning announcements – is to send a message to younger students about what’s possible through a commitment to education.
“A lot of our students are first-generation college students, so they're really breaking the cycle,” Tomisha says. “Do I think more works needs to be done? Yes, but I think that what we're doing right now is exceptional.”