Second annual BELIEF conference helps high school students aim for college

Whitworth’s BELIEF team hosted a conference for local high school students from low-income areas Feb. 28 to March 2. This college-prep program provided the students with resources and encouragement to make higher education an obtainable goal. The conference began at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday and ran through 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. BELIEF focuses on the goals, hopes and dreams of students beyond high school.

"This program is unique because it was started and is run by college students," said junior Kaley Hayhurst, one of the four program coordinators.

The other coordinators are seniors Molly Hough, Timothy Gjefle and Jonathan Whitmore.

This is the second year Whitworth is hosting the BELIEF conference.

"The first difference compared to last year is the size of the event," Whitmore said.

Last year’s conference consisted of 14 high school attendees from Rogers High School.

Other schools saw the impact the program had on the students at Rogers High School and contacted the BELIEF team to get their own students involved.

This year, about 40 high school sophomores and juniors attended.  These students came from Rogers High School, North Central High School and The Community High School.

"We reached a lot of goals from last year,” Hayhurst said. “We expanded to two more schools, we increased the amount of students attending and we are promoting to other colleges to put on the conference as well."

The BELIEF team worked with the faculty and staff of high schools to promote the BELIEF conference and invite students to participate.

Another avenue used to reach high school students was the RISE program. Whitmore is a mentor in RISE at The Community School in Spokane.

The RISE program consists of mentors and tutors who help high school students when they are having difficulties with their academics. The BELIEF team attempts to reach out to these students.

"Some of these students are struggling academically. We try to encourage academics and show them a higher education is attainable," Gjefle said.

The RISE program also allows opportunities for mentors to stay connected with the students and continue to help them pursue a higher education after the conference is over.

When the high school students arrived, they were paired with a college student mentor who guided them through the conference, answered questions and showed them what college life looks like.

"The job of the mentors is to build a relationship with the students," Hayhurst said.

Both the mentors and high school students were selected by an application process. These applications were used to match the high school student to their college mentor.

Every day, the mentor and student spent an hour together to get to know one another and build a relationship.

"I was a mentor last year,” Hayhurst said. “It was an amazing experience and I was empowered by it. I knew I wanted to get involved on the leadership team."

The high school students' parents and legal guardians are also invited to come.

The weekend events included workshops, team building activities, recreational activities, small groups, mock interviews and a college fair consisting of colleges from Washington and Idaho.

Whitmore lead one of the workshops. He taught students how to utilize technology in their education.

"The workshop will show students what tools they can use in a technological world to help advance their learning," Whitmore said.

There was a workshop lead by Marianne Hansen, the director of admissions that focused on financial aid.

"Past students said they've been told for so long that college was not attainable because of finances," Gjefle said.

The workshop informed students and their legal guardians about grants and scholarships that are available, as well as how to apply for financial aid and the FAFSA.

Members of the BELIEF team said they look forward to seeing the relationships that will be built with the high school students and hope to see growth not only in them, but in the mentors as well.

"I hope everyone learns from one another. I learned a lot from my student last year," Hayhurst said.

Rebekah Bresee Staff Writer Contact Rebekah Bresee at rbresee16@my.whitworth.edu