OXFORD HILLS  What is “summer melt?” No, it’s not a dripping ice cream cone on a hot day.

The phenomenon educators call “summer melt” occurs when high school graduates who plan to go to college never make it.

The term has long been used by college admissions offices, according to the Harvard University Center for Education Policy Research Summer Melt Handbook, to refer to the tendency of some students to pay a deposit at one institution and then go to another. 

However, the phenomenon of “college-intending” students who have completed all the pre-college steps during high school but fail to actually attend college has adopted the same descriptor.

The college process can be stressful and overwhelming for some high school students and parents. The research, the applications, the essays, the SATs, the financial aid forms, choosing classes, testing for placement, a plethora of correspondence from the school … and the list goes on.

For low-income or first-generation students, this road to matriculation can be even more confusing and overwhelming, and without access to guidance counselors or knowledge of support services, they often simply give up.

Based on data gathered by Harvard researchers and a national longitudinal study the rate of “melt” can be as high as 40 percent.

Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School Director of Guidance Nancy McClean and her intern, Brianne Fecteau, a student at Husson University who has just landed her first job as a school counselor in Standish, are doing something about summer melt in School Administrative District 17.

OHCHS is one of the two schools in the state that are addressing the issue through a pilot program funded by the Finance Authority of Maine, the Maine Educational Loan Marketing Corporation Education Foundation and the Maine College Access Network. To date, the pilot has cost the district nothing.

Beginning at the end of the spring semester, the two visited English classes to let students know that over the summer, they could get assistance with any issues, questions or problems they might have in the college process.

Bri has been doing the majority of the contact work” over the summer, McClean said. This means email, texting and phone calls following up, checking in and seeing if any student needs help to stay on track to start college in the fall.

“Most of the work we have been doing is allowing them to take their ACCUPLACER testing,” she said.

ACCUPLACER is a college board testing service used by more than 1,500 institutions as part of the enrollment process. It tests entering students in math, reading and writing to identify strengths and needs in each subject area. The results are used by institutions to help students choose courses to ensure their best chances for success.

The two women are also available to help  just-graduated seniors get over any barriers that might have come up over the summer, Fecteau said.

An example might include hiring a bus to get a group of students without transportation to orientation, McClean said. Other students might need help with applying for financial aid or housing, or need assistance in testing or signing up for remedial classes. 

Fecteau says she knew a lot of students in the Houlton area when she was graduating high school who could have used this help.

“This is the first time this program has been used in Maine,” McClean said. “Both of the schools have an intern.

“Trying to do this pilot without an intern would be impossible as I have to do it along with my regular summer duties,” she said.

McClean said that after the fall surveys they do each year, they will see the percentage of kids who have followed through and by spring, she expects, they will know if this number has increased.

They have worked with about a dozen students. Some, they say, they will follow through the end of August.

Fecteau said she has had contact with the whole senior class at least once and focused on about 70 students. Of those 70, she said, about 12 needed active help.

This all came about after being invited to a meeting over the winter last year. McClean said. The meeting had reps from colleges around the state, as well as high school counselors.

McClean laughs, saying she might have a bigger mouth than some, making OHCHS stand out.

“Maybe we spoke up more at the first meeting,” she said. 

Nokomis (High School in Newport) and us, (we) were invited to the next meeting and asked to participate.”

The two schools’ two interns are part of Husson Univerity’s school counselor program intern requirement. To graduate, all students in the counselor program must have 600 hours on internship.

“The school (OHCHS) is very supportive of our efforts with students,” McClean said. “The school and the district does anything (it can) to support students.”

Later this month, they will have the privilege of having lunch with Lindsay Page, University of Pittsburgh, and Benjamin Castleman, University of Virginia author of the Summer Melt book. 


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