Erin O'Neil, Missouri College Advising Corps college adviser working in the St. Clair R-XIII School District, is helping high school students with potential college options and preparation as she settles into a local two-year stint.

O'Neil is charged with assisting SCHS upperclassmen by advising them about advanced education opportunities after they receive their high school diploma and the processes to get there.

"College advisers work with all students in the school and provide recurring one-on-one support to 100 percent of the senior class," she said. "College advisers help students find their best-fit secondary opportunity, institutions that best fit their interests, academic preparation and resources."

According to information she provided to the R-XIII Board of Education for its November meeting, the MCAC has four overarching goals:

•To help Missouri students and their families see college as an attainable goal.

•To increase college-going rates in partner schools.

•To assist students and their families with college application and financial aid processes.

•To create a college-going culture in high-need schools.

"She has hit the ground running," R-XIII Superintendent Michael Murphy told board members on Nov. 10. "She really will expand the services we are rendering and make college an opportunity for everyone who wants to give it a try."

O'Neil is stationed at the high school.

"She gives us a little bit of extension outside of the guidance office," Murphy said. "She's helping to put us in a pretty good place."

Murphy said the MCAC is a two-year grant-funded program.

"College advisers are near-peer role models who are immersed in the school setting full time to work with all students," O'Neil said. "They participate in intensive pre- and in-service training and possess a high level of knowledge about and technical expertise in college-related processes."

She also said the college advisers work alongside counselors in striving to create and foster a college-going culture in the school. They concentrate solely on college advising and are able to provide intensive individual advisement on an ongoing basis.

The advisers assist students with all facets of the college-planning process, including financial aid, FAFSA information and completion, ACT registration and preparation, scholarship searches and applications, college application completion assistance and assistance with post-admission processes.

"I think it's going well here," O'Neil told The Missourian. "There's always room for improvement, and we really won't know the results until the seniors are in college or not in college.

"But my goal is to create a college culture in the school and community and create a conversation centered on where students are going to college instead of are they going to college."

Through the week before Thanksgiving, O'Neil said she has met with 158 seniors and 19 juniors with 159 college applications submitted under her advisement. She also has had 58 conversations with families and has scheduled 25 college admission representatives to visit the high school.

She said 29 juniors and seniors regularly attended weekly ACT prep classes, and 50 students took the Oct. 22 ACT exam. She also put together a college information night and a Bulldog assessment day earlier this fall and will host a FAFSA completion event in February and a college and career fair in March. In addition, several field trips to college campuses have taken place.

"Most students are eager to come to me and discuss their college and career options," she said.

O'Neil graduated from Missouri University in May with a degree in interdisciplinary studies with course emphasis in communications and social work. She said she was hired by the College Advising Corps program in the spring and placed in SCHS "because it was the best fit."

She is the first adviser R-XIII has had through the program.

Gifted Program

As part of its consent agenda this month, the board approved the 2011-2012 gifted program evaluation.

Information given to school board members states the program includes 53 pupils in kindergarten through eighth grade, which is 3.4 percent of the district's student population in those grades. An additional seven attend St. Clair High School and are taking AP classes.

The information also states that students currently are being tested, and numbers could increase at the end of the semester.

Students are selected based on Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education guidelines. Screening procedures include evaluation of the students' achievement, ability and critical thinking skills. Students are invited to participate in the program if they rank among the top of those who possess the criteria.

The goals of the gifted program are to provide higher level experiences and activities in a supportive environment, to prepare gifted students for challenges in their future education and life experiences and to expand program offerings to meet the needs of gifted students at the kindergarten and high school levels.