Fueling a Culture of College, Career, and Life Readiness

Nov 15, 2022

On the first day of his senior year at Sarasota Military Academy (SMA), Nathan Varley walked past something new. The door to what had been the registrar’s office had a new sign announcing something called a Student Success Center, powered by the Education Foundation of Sarasota County. Inside, he could prepare for college, career, and life.

Student Nathan Varley entering his Student Success Center.Nathan already had a plan: college. However, what that entailed, he had no clue. He paused at this newly decorated door and wondered. Then he stepped inside.

Within two months, in the middle of October, well before the November 1 deadline for early action admission to colleges, Nathan submitted his last application. Since stepping foot into the Student Success Center and meeting Student Success Coaches Diana Berris and Sarah Harding, he had been busy preparing. He’d attended the Education Foundation’s SAT/ACT bootcamp at its community resource center, LaunchPad4U. He’d discussed his strengths, interests, and goals with Diana and Sarah and mapped those to colleges and potential majors. Together, they’d worked on college essays and the applications.

Nathan is one of the many students who fill the new Student Success Center with life and excitement. Only open for three months now, it is already a hub of activity, with students visiting multiple times a week during lunch, free periods, or after school to plan for life. They meet with Sarah or Diana, use laptops, and access technology to manage their college, armed forces, or career search and their applications. As students eat lunch, they share updates and help each other.

In addition to providing one-on-one advising, Sarah and Diana have helped organize and host a Free Application for Federal Student (FAFSA) open house where students and families worked with financial aid experts to complete their application. They have held biweekly college essay workshops during lunch. At these workshops, students took their essays through multiple drafts as they prepared their applications.

Student Nathan Varley working with Student Success Coach Sarah Harding at the Student Success Center at Sarasota Military AcademyMost recently, Student Success Coach Sarah Harding has launched a peer-to-peer leadership initiative. Student leaders learn more about college, career, and life readiness and use what they know and have learned to help their peers get ready and go further. Sarah has recruited diverse students from all grade levels. They meet at the Student Success Center and share their questions, concerns, and insight. These leaders deepen a culture of college, career, and life readiness at SMA.

Student Nathan Varley with Student Success Coaches Diana Berris and Sarah Harding outside the Student Success Center at Sarasota Military AcademyPeer-to-peer leaders raise awareness of the Student Success Center and upcoming events such as workshops and open houses. They encourage their peers to formulate a plan and begin preparing. By reaching more students, earlier in their high school journeys, these leaders as well as Sarah and Diana seek to address the very issue that first led Nathan to step foot into the Student Success Center—entering senior year with a goal but with no idea how to achieve it.

And as for Nathan, with his college applications submitted, his time at his Student Success Center hasn’t come to an end. Today, he continues to work with his Student Success Coaches, but with a new focus: finding ways to pay for college.

Of his decision to step foot into the new center, he is glad he did. He is grateful for the opportunity to work with Diana and Sarah. “I would be,” he says, “nowhere near going to college without them.”