Eau Claire (WQOW)- Getting ready to apply for college is hard, and it can be even more difficult for students navigating it on their own. That's why one organization is helping disadvantaged teens explore education after high school.
WEOP is an acronym for the Wisconsin Educational Opportunity Program. Program coordinators like Bonnie Dockry seek out students with college potential and encourage them to go on to higher education. "Many of the kids have never thought about it, it's not part of their everyday conversation," says Bonnie.
WEOP works to change that, by reaching out to economically disadvantaged students as early as middle school. "They are told from the get-go that if they do well academically and if they apply for admission to college we will help them not only apply for financial aid, but we will also give them a 'Gear Up' scholarship," continues Bonnie.
Through a combination of program scholarships and grants most students, who qualify, receive enough financial aid to cover at least 50 percent of their college tuition costs.
Students are taken on campus visits, receive tutoring and ACT prep. They learn which courses will prepare them for higher education and get help applying to schools, right down to how to write a college entrance essay. "Some of them, because maybe their parents did not attend higher education at all, do not know, or are not familiar with the process of the importance of taking rigorous courses and getting good grades," adds Bonnie.
Bonnie says the most rewarding part of her job is watching students overcome adversity. remembers a young man who had his sights set on Notre Dame, but after getting accepted, was hesitant to attend orientation. "He said 'Yes I'd really like to go', and I said 'Do you think your parents would like to go?' He said, 'Bonnie they don't speak English, they wouldn't be comfortable'. I said, 'Would you like me to take you?' he said, 'Would you?' I said, 'You bet I would.'" Bonnie says that young man went on to graduate in four years, with a degree in engineering. "He was the only Hmong person there," she said. "The hard part was he had no one to speak to in his own language. But he thrived, he met good people."
The Eau Claire branch of WEOP is part of a 13 county area. Nearly 300 hundred students of the class of 2010 participated in WEOP early awareness programs. 84 percent went on to attend college.
If you'd like more information contact the Eau Claire WEOP office at (715) 836-3171.