NPT Reports: High School`s `College Zone` Gets Students on Track

Principal Ron Woodard is the epitome of ‘in your face’—but in a good way.
He’s trying to change the culture of Maplewood High School and get college on his students’ minds, everyday.

“I think it provides students with a focus,” said Woodard, Executive Principal of Maplewood High School in Metro Nashville Public Schools.

“At the end of your four year progression we tell kids that you’re going to meet a crossroads, and they have to start deciding which way they’re going to go…And so we try to get them to think about this decision earlier.”

And there’s a lot for them to think about. Students are regularly given ACT prep, college campus tours, and help with writing important essays. Beginning this year, students are able to go to the College Zone- a one stop shop for access to resources.

“It’s a really unique space. Students have the opportunity to go down at any time during the day. Martha O’Bryan Center is going to provide staff members there on site to assist students with college access need. And so is the Oasis College Connection, they’re going to provide a staff member there to help students find the right fit, to help students with their FAFSA information…helping students write their entrance essays. The whole 9 yards,” said Woodard.

The school’s approach seems to be working. Last year, students received 1.4 million dollars in scholarship money—up from $91,000 the previous year. College acceptance also went up significantly.

Senior David Wilson says he has felt the impact from the College Zone.

“If they had never called me down here I don’t think I would’ve really applied to college,” said Wilson.

“I don’t have a computer at home so I really was just procrastinating…I used to play a lot and stuff like that. But now I see like the real world it’s going to come soon. And if you don’t take grasp of it, it will really tear you down.”

Bobby Rooks, one of Wilson’s college mentors, says he sees students all the time who are surprised at how easy accessing college really is.

“Typically what they thought were barriers were just small things that were in the way. Like once they realize, you know they can fill out a FAFSA form for free, and possibly be eligible for thousands of dollars of grant money or federal work study then they realize that this is something obtainable. It’s not out of reach like I thought it was,” said Rooks.

David Wilson says his relationship with his principal has also made the difference.

“I give the credit to Mr. Woodward; in the hallway he see you, talk to you, really just instill, he has a piece of paper show it in front of your face so you don’t get…he says it on the announcements every morning too. EOC [exams], ACT, and high GPA [grade point average]. That’s how you get money for college and stuff like that.”

“We’re helping inner city urban students, students who come from impoverished conditions, to make their way to the top,” said Principal Ron Woodard.

“I remember being a student in high school and no principal ever asked me about my future, my college plans, my goals. So I make it a point now to be sure to talk to kids about their goals. That sends a message that the person at the top is not just a talking voice or person on the announcements, but you know what? This guy really cares.”

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