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Florissant Valley Campus

Identical Story, Different Dreams

Wendell Covington, left, discusses the Gateway to College program with Ashley and Alisha Huntley.

Ashley and Alisha Huntley, identical twins from North County, were just 16 when they dropped out of high school. They had lost their mother to breast cancer, and hope as a result. 

“Growing up, Mum made sure that school came first before anything else,” said Ashley. “When she passed, everything changed.”

The twins dropped out because family support ceased and financial issues arose. They took minimum wage jobs at Ponderosa and kept chugging along for three years until they realized that they were at a dead end.

“I was trying to look up GED information online and information about Gateway to College popped up,” said Alisha. “I called and found out that we still had the opportunity to get our high school diplomas even though we had left school for three years.”

A promise, a commitment and a few checked boxes of fulfilled criteria later, the Huntley’s were admitted to the Gateway to College program.

Gateway to College has programs in 33 colleges in 20 states. The program is designed for young adults ages 16 to 20 who have dropped out of high school or have one foot out the door. Through the program, students are able to complete their high school diploma requirements on a college campus while simultaneously earning credits toward a college degree or certificate. In addition to covering tuition costs, the program also pays for student fees and books.

Ashley said the one-on-one support was phenomenal.

“Getting a diploma or going to university was something beyond our reach,” she said. “We didn’t know how to get to that point but the program helped us get there.”

Added Alisha: “Without Gateway to College, we’d still be saying, ‘Baked potato or fries’ or ‘How would you like your steak done?’” 

Wendell Covington, program director, said STLCC currently serves the Ferguson-Florissant, Normandy, Ritenour and Riverview Gardens school districts. Forty students are enrolled in the program, which takes about two to three years to complete. Covington said all the college courses have been aligned to meet high school and college graduation requirements.

Each student receives a detailed, individualized academic plan and ongoing support from a resource specialist who serves as coach, mentor and adviser. During the students’ first semester, they take classes exclusively with other Gateway to College students, including a college success course that focuses on study habits, time management, test-taking strategies and other techniques for succeeding in college. After the first semester, students are mainstreamed into courses with other college students, but continue receiving intensive academic and social supports.

Students complete the Gateway to College program when they have enough high school credits to earn their diploma; however, they are strongly encouraged and supported to complete their associate degree. Students receive diplomas from the last school district they attended.

To date, STLCC’s Gateway to College program has served 133 students in the suburban North County school districts. Covington said they have a graduation rate of 32 percent, 1 percent higher than the national network average.

“We could not have done it without Mr. Covington, Christine Meyer, Terri Buford and the entire Gateway to College family at Florissant Valley,” both twins said. “They gave us everything we needed to succeed.”

The twins received their high school diploma in 2012 and have been accepted to Southeast Missouri State University. Ashley plans to major in education while Alisha plans to major in criminal justice.

“You can see the growth in them academically and socially,” Covington said. “That’s what the program is all about.”

STLCC’s Gateway to College program began serving students at its Florissant Valley campus in fall 2008. As the first dropout recovery program in Missouri that also provides students with college credit, Gateway to College is meeting a critical need in the region. 

The program is supported by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Wal mart Foundation, Edna McConnel Clark Foundation, Citi, Express Scripts, AT&T, St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center, University of Missouri-St. Louis and Better Family.  

By: Rachel Gomez