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AVID FAFSA Nights Guide ECHHS Families

The journey to college in the U.S. is often filled with confusion, procrastination and occasionally pure terror. Essays for students and the dreaded Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, for parents might be painful elements for everyone on the journey, but it’s multiplied many times for first generation college students and their parents, especially if English isn’t their first language. To help alleviate some anxiety, a team of seasoned professionals offered two evening sessions at East Chapel Hill High School (ECHHS) on November 19 and December 4 as AVID FAFSA nights. Nearly 60 students and more than 30 adults attended both sessions, and it’s a good bet they’re all grateful they did. FAFSA Night at East

AVID Coordinator and Biology Teacher, Kimberly Manning, spearheaded the planning, but it took a village to serve so many families and explain the very complex information. “The AVID team worked to make this event happen, with the help of School Social Worker, Ms. Brenda McNeely-Allen, who oversees the Latino support team,” said Manning. 

The FASFA nights were open to all grade levels and the entire ECHHS community. “We served dinner on the first night of the event,” Manning said. “The first session was on ‘What Is FASFA,’ and the second was a ‘FASFA Completion Night.’  We went over the FASFA process, and the expectations of parents in helping their student(s) become college-ready. We fielded questions, had a Spanish interpreter onsite, helped some families create accounts, and provided literature to all participants.”

Instructional Coach, Nick Winstead, said, “I thought the AVID College Financial Aid Night was a great success. We had great turnout from parents and students both, and it was great to see valuable information about what can be a daunting process brought to life in an engaging and meaningful way. I really think our AVID students and their parents found it beneficial.”

FAFSA presenter at East For the completion session, Sarita Broadway and Juana Hernandez, two representatives from the College Foundation NC (CFNC), provided their expertise and advice. ECHHS usually offers one or two FAFSA nights each year, but this was the first time a completion night was added as a second session. With a Spanish-speaking support team on hand, a wider range of families was served than in previous years.

"Families learned about the FAFSA, scholarships, federal and state grants, institutional scholarships and forgivable education loans for service (FELS)," Hernandez said. "Financial aid options for DACA and undocumented students were also covered. After the workshop, parents shared that they felt more at ease learning about all the forms of financial aid. Students with DACA shared that they were relieved to know that although they cannot get federal or state aid, they can be eligible for scholarships, sponsorships, and institutional grants/scholarships. Lastly, many students were surprised to learn that you don’t have the highest GPA to earn a scholarship because there scholarships for all types of students!"

AVID Senior, Daniel Reyes-Rojas, said, “The people who came over helped me think about out of state options, and they helped me fill out the form.”

Alan Cordero-Avendano, also a senior in AVID, said the sessions pushed him to complete the FAFSA on time. “It helped me formally fill it out,” he said.

Christina Royster’s daughter, Amaya, is a senior at ECHHS. "I am so thankful to Ms. Manning and ECHHS for hosting the FAFSA night,” she said. “The college admission process, as well as the completion of the FAFSA, is very intense with a lot of room for error. Having an opportunity to ask specific questions in a small group and get those questions answered was invaluable. I found the presentation and their willingness to walk families through the FAFSA completion extremely helpful."

ECHHS Assistant Principal, Janyelle Johnson, said, “I am extremely grateful for the great AVID staff at East. They constantly bring new and innovative ideas to engage students and their families. AVID FAFSA Night afforded families the opportunity to engage and receive great information regarding how to navigate the FAFSA process. Families were able to have an open dialogue with the presenter and receive an immediate response to their questions.”

Manning is committed to widening and deepening the supports for AVID, and all students at ECHHS. “Many staff helped make the event successful, but we intend to continue identifying stakeholders that can help make college readiness more accessible to all families in the East community.”