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Counselor honored for helping students get college financial aid

Counselor helps seniors win awards to afford college; now she's getting an award of her own

Fortunately for some high school seniors, it's not a huge problem if they forget their password when they're applying to college online; their school counselor keeps them in a little gray box on her bookshelf.

By no means is this the only measure Andrea Goodwin takes to ensure her students go college. The Los Angeles High School of the Arts counselor proofreads every application, keeps 2-inch binders with students' graduation plans and hand-delivers scholarship forms to the post office.

"When you get this kind of follow-through, the kids don't slip through the cracks," Goodwin said.

Goodwin, 48, was selected recently as the winner of this year's Arthur S. Marmaduke Award, which is given by the California Student Aid Commission to a high school counselor who excels at helping students secure financial aid to go to college.

At a recent awards ceremony, Goodwin was recognized by the state Senate, Assembly, the Department of Education and Los Angeles Unified School District.

"This award acknowledges commitment to assisting students in gaining access to postsecondary education," said Diana Fuentes-Michel, executive director of the student aid commission.

Goodwin has only been working at the school — one of five within the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools complex — for a year, although she worked for 11 years as an English teacher and then a counselor in the district.

The Los Angeles school district has faced high student-to-counselor ratios because of budget cuts over the last several years. The district budget, approved last month, includes money to hire more counselors to reduce their loads.

Goodwin works with the 100-member senior class exclusively; she is equal parts guidance counselor and college advisor. Another counselor works with ninth- through 11th-graders.

Every student at the school receives a free or reduced-priced lunch, an indicator of low family income, and the "vast majority" of students would be the first in their families to attend college, Goodwin said.

She said senior year is particularly exciting because the students "really get to see the fruits of their labor pay off" once they begin receiving financial aid and college acceptance letters.

"What a lot of them realize is that, with financial aid, that they will be able to change their lives," she said.

Goodwin's work has had tangible results: 95% completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and the California Dream Act Application. Of those graduating, about two-thirds plan to attend four-year colleges in the fall, about a third are going to community college, two students are joining the military and a couple are getting jobs, she said.

When Goodwin talks about her work, she becomes animated, inspired by her stories of student success. She flips through thick stacks of paperwork; "This is where the daily on-the-ground [work] happens," she said. She tells of trips to college campuses, parent workshops and visits from higher education representatives.

"Ms. Goodwin leaves nothing to chance when it comes to planning our seniors' future paths," colleague Cathy Kwan wrote in Goodwin's nomination for the award.

Goodwin said her job involves chasing down some students who might not think they can attend college and helping them with applications — and sometimes advising them about life in general. Others come to her for guidance.

"I have yet to meet a student who wasn't interested in opportunity, and the kids are ready," Goodwin said. "They want their future."

Although Goodwin said each student had touched her in some way, there is one memory she finds particularly moving. At the end of the school year, the senior class surprised her with a box of thank-you letters, one from each student.

She said she often brags that she has "the best job on campus."

"I get the privilege of working with [the students], and that to me feels like the ultimate fulfillment," she said.

The students chose to forgo ordinary wrapping paper for the gift; instead, they covered the box in their college acceptance letters.

Twitter: @Caitlin__Owens

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