Tolleson Union High School Doug Ducey Most Innovative Player recognition

Gov. Doug Ducey presented school counselors with the Most Innovative Player recognition. From left to right are department Chairwoman Andrea Wolochuk, Stephanie Finch, Karla Anibas, Ducey, Grace Barnes, Martha Caballero, Nicolette Newcomb and Principal Felipe Mandurraga.

Tolleson Union High School students showed improvement in college and FAFSA applications thanks to the efforts of the counseling staff.

The counseling staff of Tolleson Union High School set on a mission six years ago to educate students on FAFSA and help them with the application process. As a result, TUHS was ranked third in the state for greatest increase in percentage of FAFSA applications

In addition, TUHS collaborated with Be a Leader Foundation, whose mission is to increase the number of students who attend college in Arizona.

“It was important to us to help as many kids as possible to graduate high school, move on to college and pay as little as possible,” said Andrea Wallochuk, TUHS counseling staff member.

To help the students as much as possible, the school tracked  the number of students who completed their FAFSA application and those who hadn’t.

“Our data is updated once a week. When I get the data, then that’s our starting off point, whether it’s calling down kids we know need to get it done (FAFSA application) or making sure that our data matches the state data, so the kids are not missing anything,” school counselor Stephanie Finch said.

Although the students who are graduating are very important, the students who are just joining the school are also being prepped for the application process, Finch said. Through the school’s Education Career Action Plan (ECAP), the freshmen begin to prepare for their senior year.

“A large part of it is educating them,” Finch said. “We do it through ECAP. Since they were freshmen, we’ve already been discussing with the idea of making sure that they are planning what the career path they want to take.”

In addition, TUHS has FAFSA nights during which students and their families are invited to learn about and continue the application process. The school makes sure to hold these events after hours, so parents of the students can join as well.

Martha Caballero, school counselor, said some students can feel reluctant to complete a FAFSA application because of multiple reasons. One such reason is the students not being fully informed as to whether they fit the requirement for the application.

Caballero said many kids believe they can’t apply for FAFSA because their parents do not have a social security number or are unsure if their citizenship status will prevent them from getting funding.

“It’s been a lot of educating. We’ve gotten better, I think, at asking those delicate questions and students have been more willing to share with that,” Caballero said.

Finch said since the counseling team was built six years ago, the school has already experienced an increase in graduation rate and the relationships between students and counselors have improved.

“It’s just been an effort that we’ve built up every single year and I anticipate next year being even better,” Finch said.

The counselors wanted to give special thanks to Be a Leader Foundation and Cecilia Duarte, who helped them with the school’s mission.

TUHS wants to continue to educate incoming students as to the benefits of the FAFSA application and how simple it can be to get proper funds for college.

“It’s not scary to do. I think being scared comes with just not knowing and if you are scared about it (FAFSA application) as questions. I want them to know that there is support to get those fears squashed,” Caballero said.