In her junior year at Eastern Hills High School, Dommanique Bonner had an epiphany.
“It was like, ‘Oh, OK!’” Bonner said. “It hit me: ‘I need to be somebody.’”
Bonner, a senior at Eastern Hills High School, said she decided to stop hanging out at the corner store and make more stops at the GO Center at her school. A GO Center career coach helped her submit college applications and apply for scholarships.
Now, Bonner, who wants to study nursing, expects to attend Texas State University in the fall.
About 11/2 years ago, the GO Center at Eastern Hills was a broom closet. This year, it has a small staff and has moved to a large portable building next to the campus where students can chart career and education plans, said Terrence Watson, who runs the center at Eastern Hills.
“We create a college application account for the students; we make sure they have everything — transcripts, test scores, essays,” said Watson, who is a college and career readiness coach. “If you’ve missed a whole page in an application, I call you in.”
The GO Center at Eastern Hills is helping many students, including Bonner, break away from the negative stereotypes associated with inner-city youths, said Mikki McCoy, coordinator at Eastern Hills for Advancement Via Individual Determination.
The school, in the Fort Worth district, is rated one of the state’s lowest-performing and had an “improvement required” ranking under the Texas Academic Performance Report for 2013-14, the most recent year available.
About 68.9 percent of students are economically disadvantaged and 65.6 percent have been identified as being at risk of dropping out of school, state records show.
“What the GO Center offers here is more of a culture and a climate where it is possible to reach” for college and vocational careers, McCoy said.
“These kids, often their only objective is to get out of high school and maybe even get out of the east side, but they don’t know how they are going to do it,” McCoy said. “Now, they have hope.”
All told, 192 of the 242 seniors in the Class of 2015 have submitted application letters to the military or to a college or university — primarily because of the support they received at the GO Center, McCoy said.
About $1.2 million in scholarship money has been awarded to the graduates, McCoy said.
“Before [the GO Center], you wouldn’t have seen as much scholarship money,” McCoy said.
GO Centers have been operating in the Fort Worth district for several years, said Stacy Burrell, coordinator of the district’s academic advisement office.
But more students are using them because they have become more visible on campus, Burrell said. Students look to them for help with college applications, career coaching and career exploration.
They operate in each of the district’s 13 high schools and 12 middle schools. Salaries for GO Center staffers at the middle schools are supported by the United Way, Burrell said.
In 2014, GO Centers saw a spike in student visitors, according to the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, which tracks student participation. In 2014, more than 20,000 Fort Worth district students visited the centers. In previous years, the highest participation rate was no more than about 13,000, according to GO Center data.
“We have a crop, a generation, of students now who recognize GO Centers and what the services are about,” Burrell said. “We are connecting the dots a lot more.”
With help from the GO Center, Eastern Hills senior Kevin Murphy, 18, has amassed about $30,000 in college scholarships and grants to be used at Texas A&M University, where he says he will go in the fall. He wants to study computer science, he said.
“It feels surreal,” Murphy said. “It’s been pretty shocking. I didn’t expect to get all these things.”
Murphy, who has two older brothers, will be the first in his family to attend college, he said.
“I always felt like I wanted to be different,” Murphy said. “I wanted to go to college.”
Yamil Berard, 817-390-7705