Nonprofit guides Wilkinsburg students to next level

July 17, 2007 – 9:51 pm

Found On Pittsburghlive.com

By Kacie Axsom
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Before he met Jeff Woodard, Martin Dietz was on his own to figure out
the college application process.

Dietz graduated from Wilkinsburg High School this year, and he plans to
attend Lincoln University in the fall. But before he received his
acceptance letter, he had to sort through college applications and
financial aid options.

“As the year went on, I kept having trouble with it,” said Dietz, 18.
“But (Woodard) would always be there. Then, everything was easy.”

Woodard is the executive director of the Pennsylvania College Access
Program, or PA-CAP. Since 2001, the nonprofit has worked with
Wilkinsburg High School and Wilkinsburg Academy seniors to prepare them
for college applications.

The organization’s volunteers meet several times with the students
throughout the year in groups. This year, they began one-on-one
meetings, resulting in a dramatic increase in the number of students
pursuing higher education, Woodard said.

“I wasn’t even planning on going to college, and when I met Jeff, he
convinced me,” said Carlos Salazar, who graduated from the University of
Pittsburgh with a bachelor’s degree and California University of
Pennsylvania with a master’s degree in business administration. He now
works for PNC Financial Services Group in New Jersey.

Salazar said he didn’t know how to go about the applications process and
wasn’t really motivated to go to school. Woodard helped Salazar on his
own time during PA-CAP’s infancy.

“Parents don’t know what to do, kids don’t know what to apply for, even
though there’s a lot of information out there,” Salazar said. “This
program is a stepping stone for them.”

Seniors list their preferred colleges or universities, and PA-CAP
volunteers help them get the appropriate applications, financial aid
forms, and ensure they are taking SATs or ACTs.

“I think every school should do it,” said Dietz, who plans to major in
business management. PA-CAP is trying to find funding to help Dietz move
to Lincoln University, southwest of Philadelphia.

About 98 percent of Wilkinsburg High School seniors from the class of
2007 have been accepted to institutions of higher learning, said
superintendent Archie Perrin. He said they won’t know actual attendance
rates until the fall term begins.

About 83 percent of seniors from the class of 2006 were college-bound,
which was higher than the county average of 80 percent and the statewide
average of 75 percent, according to the most recent data from the
Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Perrin said PA-CAP, along with the school’s guidance department, has
provided many opportunities for students, and he attributes Wilkinsburg
students’ high acceptance rates to their efforts.

The PA-CAP program costs about $250 a student each year, which goes
toward college application fees, housing deposits, and helps provide
college visits — all things students might not be able to afford
otherwise.

Funding comes from donations, and Woodard hopes to secure state grants
to expand the program to more schools in the county and surrounding
areas.

“We want to make sure that everyone is going to college,” he said.

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