When David Kidd was a student at Bayside High School, he never really thought of continuing his education.
“I wasn’t really someone who was ever told to go to college,” Kidd said.
He said he was considering joining the military after high school, but with the help of an ACCESS College counselor, Kidd decided to attend Virginian Wesleyan University.
He graduated from college in May 2011. In August of that year, Kidd returned to the ACCESS program, this time as one of its counselors.
Kidd, now a counselor at his old high school, is one of about 50,000 students who the non-profit organization says it has helped attend college since it began in Norfolk in 1988. The program has given over $8 million to help students afford it as well, according to Bonnie Sutton, president and CEO of ACCESS College.
The ACCESS College Foundation was started by two businessmen, Frank Batten and Joshua Darden Jr., who wanted to make college accessible to local students who traditionally would not have thought of it as an option, such as those from low-income families or who would be the first in their family to attend.
“We come in and knock down the obstacles and the barriers and increase the college-going rate and help our students,” Sutton said.
The program expanded to Virginia Beach in 1999 and has helped 14,000 students there go on to college since then.
ACCESS begins targeting students in middle school. At that level, counselors host assemblies and events to publicize the program.
When students move on to high school, ACCESS has counselors in each building to provide more detailed advice on the college application process. ACCESS now has eight counselors serving 11 Virginia Beach High Schools. (Green Run Collegiate does not have an ACCESS Counselor.) Sutton said three high schools – Bayside, Green Run and Landstown – each have a full-time counselor because they are considered to have more “at-risk students,” based on the number of students that qualify for reduced or free lunches.
A school’s traditional guidance counselor has many other tasks and roles in addition to helping students apply to college, according to Sutton. The role of an ACCESS counselor is to help only on issues related to post-secondary education, from SATs to financial aid. ACCESS counselors reach out to students who are from lower income households and might not otherwise consider college, although those counselors will help any student who needs it, Sutton said.
The organization also helps students get fees for applications and tests waived, and will pay for as many as four college applications per student. Counselors also provide information sessions to parents.
ACCESS also provides its own scholarships and helps students apply to outside grant and scholarship programs. Its “Last Dollar Scholarship” is intended to help students bridge the gap between what they’ve received in grants and scholarships and the final cost of attending a school, Sutton said.
“As a school board chairman, it just delights me that we have the ACCESS College Foundation in this community,” said Dan Edwards, the Virginia Beach School Board chairman and a member of the ACCESS board of directors.
Edwards called it a unique organization that has helped many of the students in his schools pursue options they never knew they had.
“We’ve had children from families who were about as destitute as you could think, where there’s no way they would have found college without this program,” he said.
The ACCESS program also works to help its students stay in college. The program has three advisers who cover 13 colleges and universities in Virginia, including Virginia Commonwealth University, Tidewater Community College, Hampton University, Old Dominion University and Virginia Wesleyan, Kidd’s alma mater.
Kidd said having counselors check in on him helped.
“It helped you stay connected with the organization,” he said. “[Advisers] would be like, ‘Hey, we’re at Wesleyan today. Let’s swing by and start the process for the FAFSA.’ ”
ACCESS credits staying connected with its students as one of the main reasons for its high success rate. Ninety percent of the students in the program graduate from college, according to its 2015 annual report.
Kidd said he wants to give his students the same opportunities he received through the program. His counselor duties include hosting classroom sessions on managing student loan debt. He also spends at least one period every day in the library helping students complete their applications.
“They just need some reassurance they’re doing it the right way,” Kidd said. “To have a corner man, someone they can go to, it helps them get through the process a little easier.”
For Kidd, one of his favorite parts of the job is seeing his students’ eyes light up when they get accepted into school or receive the results of their college admission exam.
“I have a folder where I keep my ‘thank you’ cards,” he said. “That shows you why I show up to work.”