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Column: AmeriCorps program helping our students with ‘near-peer’ advisers

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Let me tell you about an exciting initiative that I’m privileged to be a part of at my alma mater, Lancaster High School.
It’s an AmeriCorps program. Created as part of the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993, AmeriCorps helps individuals give back to their communities in service positions across the United States.
Last week, individuals and programs across the country celebrated AmeriCorps Week – highlighting the billions of hours of service that over 1 million AmeriCorps members have contributed to their communities since the program’s inception.
Here in Chester and Lancaster counties, school and local leaders gathered to reflect on a current AmeriCorps initiative serving our students – the Furman College Advising Corps.
Launched in 2017 in response to needs raised by young adults in our communities, the Furman College Advising Corps (FCAC) was created in partnership with the Chester and Lancaster County school districts, the national College Advising Corps, Furman University, The Duke Endowment, and the J. Marion Sims Foundation.
Since the fall of 2017, FCAC has placed a full-time college adviser in all seven of our high schools in Chester and Lancaster counties. Together with gudiance counselors, advisers work every day to support students, families and schools as our students make plans for their lives after high school.
Each college adviser is a recent college graduate, trained to be a college adviser but also able to share personal experiences with high school students about what it means to be a college student today. This “near-peer” model is unique to the national College Advising Corps and has been successful in 15 other states since the College Advising Corps was formed in 2006.
We are currently in the second year of a five-year pilot of the College Advising Corps in South Carolina, housed here in Chester and Lancaster. Advisers have already provided over 18,000 service hours in our schools and communities.
Even more unique to the Furman College Advising Corps, however, is that two of our current advisers, Tiona Thompson and myself, grew up in the communities where we are currently serving. Tiona in Chester and I in Lancaster.
With our college adviser positions, we have been given the special and awesome chance to support our teachers, guidance counselors and administrators in the same way they supported us as we completed high school and made future plans. I’m even getting to help coach the LHS soccer team.
Together with our five colleagues in the other high schools, Tiona and I bring our own experiences of having recently gone through a high school transition as we aim to advise current students going through that same transition.
The Furman College Advising Corps is one way to provide high school students with additional support for college and career readiness goals. For students who choose college, our work every day is to help them determine the best school for their needs, and to help students as they work on college applications, essays, scholarships and other financial aid.
We also get the chance to participate fully as staff members in our respective high schools, helping as administrators and teachers see fit. This is a service opportunity of a lifetime, allowing us to say thanks to all of those important mentors and teachers who guided us not so long ago.
All seven of us have been very grateful for the opportunity to serve students, and for the school partnerships we have developed during the first two years of this program’s existence in South Carolina. We look forward to continued opportunities to serve all students.

Emma DeVenny graduated from Furman University last May with a bachelor’s degree in political science.