Parents Talk Back

In the fall of his senior year, Rico Beuford wasn’t sure if he was going to go to college at all.

His mom had died in a car accident when he was in grade school, and the deep sense of loss was hitting him again. He was filled with anger. He had moved out of his father’s house and was living with his aunt. Though he was taking all Advanced Placement classes at Parkway North High School in the St. Louis area, he was lashing out at his teachers. His life felt chaotic.

Then, a good friend’s mom intervened. Carla Feuer recognized what a promising student he was. She asked if he wanted a mentor to help him through the application process. He did.

She made sure he took his ACT on time. She kept him on track with application deadlines and suggested colleges for him to consider. She helped him navigate the financial aid quagmire. She read his essays for scholarship applications. She guided him in following up on emails with college officials when he wasn’t getting a response to his questions.

Next year, Beuford, now 24, will graduate from the University of Missouri at Kansas City. He was accepted into the accelerated medical school program right out of high school.

“His success is his success,” Feuer said. “I was just fortunate enough to be there to give him the support he needed.”

While the news headlines are dominated by wealthy parents cheating and bribing to get their kids into selective colleges, many low- and middle-income students don’t even have access to basic college counseling. High school counselors typically juggle hundreds of students and can’t provide the type of one-on-one counseling students need, especially those coming from families who have not been through the gantlet of college admissions.

David and Lois Zuckerman, founders of Mentors 4 College, saw this gap in 2011 when they started an all-volunteer corps of mentors to guide students in the Parkway School District, where their three children graduated. They trained other volunteers to mentor families with the aim of building college-savvy communities. The organization’s service to students is completely free to those within the district who ask for help.

The college admissions system is set up to favor those with resources, connections and know-how. A bunch of very rich families abusing the system is not surprising in the least, David Zuckerman said.

“It’s really about everyone else who is not getting any help,” he said. “There’s a much bigger problem that we are busy ignoring.” Finding the best post-high-school fit for a student, in terms of future goals and affordability, requires a few years of planning.

“Sixteen- and 17-year-olds are not the best planners,” he said. This major life decision is often fraught with emotions, which may override a student’s best long-term interests.

How remarkable would it be if parents in districts throughout the country took a similar approach to the students in their communities? Imagine if parents with recent experience adopted a student unfamiliar with the process and offered to support them through it.

Feuer said when she offered to help Beuford, her main thought was that he should have the same opportunities to succeed that her son had. She now laughs about how she wanted him to accept a full-ride scholarship that a different state school had offered him.

He was dead-set on becoming a doctor, and chose the program at UMKC.

“I was willing to gamble on myself,” he said.

Next year, he will walk across the stage with his medical degree.

Feuer plans to be there, cheering him on.

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