College is king at Cross High Entire senior class aims high in Summit program

Cross High School seniors Edwin Martas (center), Josh Grace (left) and Briyanna Roberts mentor fellow classmates during a College Summit class at the school Friday. The course leads the 40 Cross seniors through the college application process, with all of them applying to at least one college.

CROSS — Just a month into her senior year at Cross High School, Briyanna Roberts has already completed three college applications.

Among her peers in Cross’ Class of 2013, she’s not alone. Most of the 40 seniors at the school have submitted at least one.

By December, all of them will have applied somewhere.

The seniors got a jump on the process thanks to a program called College Summit, a class they all take.

“We work to increase the number of low-income students going to college by providing a tool kit to help them through the process,” said YaKima Rhinehart, executive director of the South Carolina region of College Summit. “These are not the types of students that usually go to college.”

Cross, where 80 percent of the students are on free or reduced lunch, is the only school in the Lowcountry that participates in the national program, which also serves schools in Hampton, Sumter, Orangeburg and Richland counties.

“It doesn’t matter who gets them ready for college as long as they’re ready,” said guidance counselor Allean Davis.

Cross is a rural school surrounded by a tight-knit community that draws students from Cross, Ridgeville, Pineville, Pinopolis and Sandridge.

Named one of America’s Best High Schools by U.S. News & World Report in 2010, the school has just under 300 students in grades seven through 12, many who would be first-generation college students.

College Summit has been so successful at Cross that the school won three of four annual awards this year: Peer Leaders of the Year (Canijah Bennett and Bi’Jaan Cole), Teacher of the Year (Robert Seay) and School of the Year.

“We are thrilled to be part of a program that’s doing such a good job assisting students,” said Berkeley County School Superintendent Rodney Thompson. “Some seniors don’t know where to begin the college application process and it can be overwhelming to parents. This program is priceless for them.”

Briyanna, 17, dreams of attending Coastal Carolina University.

“This really helped us to know about the process and where to start,” she said. “I think it would have been hard to get through it without the College Summit program.”

At Cross, college planning starts in earnest during the spring of junior year, when students are encouraged to take the SAT or ACT. That way, they can meet early decision deadlines, which is Oct. 1 for many colleges.

A handful of students attend a Peer Leader Summer Workshop, where they spend four days on a college campus learning to write a compelling personal statement, exploring colleges that match their interests, and completing college application and financial aid forms. Then they teach their classmates at school about the process.

“These are not necessarily the super-duper, top-of-the-class kids,” Rhinehart said. “We chose this group because when they go back to the classroom and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to go to college,’ they are able to influence other members of their class to think about going, too.”

Of those who attend the workshop, 80 percent go on to college.

Cross students face some obstacles their urban peers may not. For instance, many don’t have internet access, so they use the school’s computer lab or career center for college searches, registering for the SAT or ACT, taking virtual tours of campuses and filling out applications.

“All of the applications and even some of the scholarships are online,” Davis said. “It makes it more difficult for us, but we try hard to make sure the students get what they need.”

The school holds workshops for families to learn about deadlines, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and learn how to search for scholarships.

“Without College Summit, I wouldn’t have known where to start. I wouldn’t have known about financial aid or all the free money that’s out there,” said Josh Grace, who has applied to South Carolina State, Benedict and North Carolina A&T, hoping to become a member of the band at one of them.

Officials figure the process is a good one for students whether they go to college or not.

“We have a lot of connections for our kids,” Davis said. “They just have to be persistent about the follow through.”

Applying to – and even getting into – college does not mean the students all attend.

About 75 percent of the Class of 2012’s 60 graduates went on to college, Davis said. She expects that percentage to be higher for this year’s senior class, which she called “even more motivated” than the one before them.

“We lay out for them how to get into college,” said Seay, who teaches the College Summit program and is chair of the social studies department. “We want them to have a post-secondary plan, but this community is not a wealthy community and we find that some of them will turn down college to go into the military or get a job.”

For that reason, all of the students also take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, the military’s admission test, and attend an annual career fair with local industry.

“One of the things I love most about College Summit is that they are very persistent in making sure the students get what they need,” Davis said. “Although not all of the students wind up going to college, it has created a college-going culture here.”

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or