The morning of May 5th, Phil Campbell High School recognized its students with its annual Awards Day Celebration. During the event, students, administration, and parents applauded the senior class for their successes – the scholarships they have won, the colleges where they have been admitted, and the achievements they have earned. This year, the senior class had another thing to celebrate – on May 22, they will be the first students to graduate from the new Phil Campbell High School, which was just completed in the fall.
Four years ago, the mountains this class had to climb just to attend class each morning seemed insurmountable. On Tuesday, as each student was recognized for the accomplishments they’ve made, there could be no question that they have exceeded all expectations.
On April 27, 2011, the town of Phil Campbell, Alabama, was devastated by an EF-5 tornado. Along with the town, the high school had been destroyed and the community had been forced to set up classes in trailers. Many of the students had lost their homes, their livelihoods, and their loved ones.
In the wake of the tragedy, Northwest-Shoals Community College and Alabama Possible came together to ensure that the youth in Phil Campbell would get opportunities they would need to succeed in the years after the tornado.
The organizations created a unique Blueprints cohort of incoming 9th graders that would follow a single class of Phil Campbell students all four years they were in school. Every student selected would be the first in their families to attend college.
Unlike other Blueprints cohorts that only work with students for one year, our aim in Phil Campbell was to encourage these students to explore their options and assist them as they made strides toward achieving success towards college throughout their entire high school experience.
Over the next four years, these students would face a lot of challenges. First generation college students are much more likely than their peers to lack “college knowledge” related to college and career choices, admission practices, and the types of financial aid available. However, the Blueprints team and Northwest-Shoals’ chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, who became the students’ mentors, were dedicated to making sure the students faced all of these challenges well prepared.
One of the Blueprints mentors was Beatriz Felix. Beatriz said she was as much of a student as she was a mentor. “It was an eye opener for me about how much help students really need. Students need someone to motivate them and help them onto the right path toward a better future.”
With graduation looming on the horizon, every member of the Blueprints class has been accepted to the college of their choice, and every student has received some scholarship dollars.
Not every student knows what they want to major in, but they all have a plan for success after high school.
“There is no reason to be afraid of going to college,” said Bethany Sparks, one of the graduating seniors that participated in the Blueprints cohort.
Bethany will be attending the University of North Alabama in the fall and aspires to attend medical school and becoming a surgeon. She is grateful for the opportunity to participate in Blueprints and said without it, continuing her education after high school may not have been possible.
According to Bethany, “The Blueprints program has offered not just me, but my entire blueprints class an amazing opportunity. It makes learning about college fun and exciting.”
Blueprints is honored to be play a small role in their success. After being recognized during the Award Celebration, Madison Sutherland, the Blueprints Valedictorian for 2015, said, “Blueprints changed my life. It’s because of my time in Blueprints that I’m going to college.”