In an effort to promote a college/career-ready culture at Crook County High School, administrators hold an event to highlight seniors and their post-high school plans

 - Crook County High School senior Jordan Elliot waits for Dropout Prevention Coordinator McKenzie Kudlac to sign her Decision Day certificate as ASPIRE Coordinator Collin Hester looks on and supports the student.

Anybody who follows collegiate athletics is likely aware of the fanfare surrounding an athlete signing their letter of intent.

The moment where a successful high school sports star officially chooses where he or she will go to school for the next four years is often greeted with a crowd, a photo shoot and sometimes more, depending on the caliber of athlete.

Meanwhile, every school year, many other high school students choose a college destination as well, and the event comes and goes with little attention beyond congratulations from family, friends and perhaps some school mentors.

That is no longer the case at Crook County High School. Wednesday, the school held its first Decision Day event with the intent of spotlighting all seniors who have chosen their next education destination after high school.

"They tell us what they are doing and then we give them a certificate just making their declaration of what their plans are after high school," explained CCHS Assistant Principal Joel Hoff.

Principal Michelle Jonas, microphone in hand, announced each senior as they came forward in front of a crowd of students. The graduates-to-be stopped by one station to receive their certificate from Dropout Prevention Coordinator McKenzie Kudlac then joined Hoff behind a podium in front of a backdrop of balloons and a large "Decision Day 2018" sign to have their picture taken and receive a congratulatory handshake.

 - Crook County High School senior Ayden Hill joins Assistant Principal Joel Hoff at the podium to share a congratulatory handshake and have his picture taken. Hoff said they are deliberately trying to mimic the same atmosphere that student athletes encounter when they sign their letter of intent, and celebrate any post high school education choice, whether its college, a trade school or military service.

"It is kind of a cool idea," he remarked.

The event, which was held on Wednesday morning in the high school commons, is not a completely original one, Hoff admits, but is one of several suggested by Oregon GEAR UP to help create a college-going culture in high schools. The Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduates Program is intended to ensure middle and high school students are prepared for, pursue, and succeed in post-secondary education.

Creating a college and career ready culture at CCHS began about four years ago, Hoff said, and it has spawned a committee of six that includes Hoff, representatives from OSU Cascades and Central Oregon Community College, and the high school's guidance counselor and ASPIRE coordinator. The group meets monthly and has already implemented other Oregon GEAR UP ideas.

In recent years, it seems the effort has proven fruitful. Of the 166 students who received a diploma this past June, 116 reported plans to move on to college, with 35 attending a four-year school. Another five said they will attend a trade school, and nine others said they are enlisting in the military. Another 22, meanwhile, planned to enter the workforce, leaving just 11 undecided.

Hoff also attributes the high percentage of students advancing their education to a few other programs, as well as some efforts within the high school.

"The Oregon Promise is a program that will pay for students' first year of community college if they meet certain requirements," he said. "That helps get rid of a hurdle, finances, which normally keeps kids out of college."

 - Crook County High School senior William Combee checks out his Decision Day certificate that was recently signed by Dropout Prevention Coordinator McKenzie Kudlac.The ASPIRE program (Access to Student Programs in Reach of Everyone) is another reason Hoff highlights that helps steer students toward education after high school.

"It is our college readiness coordinator who works with kids on partnering with families," he said, noting that the program enables school staff to work alongside parents and students as they apply for college and scholarships, an unknown journey that can be challenging.

High school staff has also encouraged students to develop a post-graduation plan through a program called AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination).

Decision Day now joins the effort, and Hoff and other educators hope it will further cement the school's college and career readiness culture going forward. If responses from the first event are any indication, the idea seems to have hit its mark.

"I think it's pretty cool. It gives us seniors an opportunity to shine," said CCHS senior Riley Box, who plans to attend Linn-Benton Community College this fall. "It makes you feel recognized, that's for sure."

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