Mercer Island UW student helps others apply for college

University of Washington junior Mihir Parikh will graduate next year with a degree in cellular and developmental biology. But one two-credit class he has taken, which isn’t even graded, has meant a great deal to him.

Parikh, who attended Islander Middle School and Mercer Island High School, has been a mentor in UW’s “Dream Project,” a student-initiated college-access and retention program that partners UW students with first-generation and low-income students in 16 Seattle area high schools to assist in what is often a very daunting task — the college admissions process.

Parikh got involved through a friend, who is one of the high school leads. Now Parikh finds himself at Renton High School each week, mentoring students.

“We generally focus on schools with a lot of students in that situation (low income or first-generation),” he said. “They get matched up with a mentor, and we help them with whatever they need.”

That includes helping them sort through the maze of schools to apply to, helping them apply for scholarships or financial aid, SAT preparation and even filling out the dreaded FAFSA (federal student aid) forms.

“We don’t want to discourage them from applying,” Parikh said. “We tell them, don’t let money be a deterrent for you.”

Parikh said if finances or grades are an issue, they will help their mentees get set up in a community college. There are options, but now they need more mentors to pitch in. He said they’ve had 400 this year, not enough for the number of mentees who have expressed interest. The 400 split up among the 16 high schools that they travel to. Parikh said 40 of them go to Renton High School.

Luke Allpress, who leads the UW project, said Parikh is one of the UW college mentors who is doing an outstanding job of working with high school students and furthering the success of the Dream Project.

With the help of a $1 million grant from the Gates Foundation, they were able to expand the program and assist more high school students. At Renton High School, every junior goes through the program.

On May 18, at the “Live the Dream Scholarship Event,” 20 of the dream scholars received scholarships to attend UW, partially funded by the grant.

“They came from different high schools in King County,” Parikh said.

There was a first time scholarship recipient from Rainier Beach High School, one from Chief Sealth, and several smaller schools that have joined the program.

“It’s nice sharing this experience with other people,” Parikh said.

No alcohol issues at MIHS prom

The Mercer Island High School prom on May 21 went “swimmingly” according to MIHS principal John Harrison.

There were no random breathalyzer tests at the door, which has been proposed for the Lake Washington High School prom on June 4.

“It sounds like there may have been some pressure,” Harrison said of the Lake Washington situation. “Typically, it’s pressure from parents or the community.”

Superintendent Gary Plano said the Mercer Island School District has not given a breathalyzer test to a student unless it is believed the student is under the influence.

District policy number 3247 states “to the extent circumstances allow, if a staff member suspects that a student is under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs on school property or at a school sponsored event ... if reasonable suspicion exists, and test equipment is available, the school administrator or his/her designee will ask the student to move to a less conspicuous location and require the student to take a breathalyzer test.”

If a student is found to be under the influence, the student would be suspended from school for a minimum of three days and up to 10 days. A second offense could result in an 11 to 90-day suspension. The same policy applies to illegal drugs.

Harrison said at the school’s dances, there are at least two chaperones at the doors, as well as the presence of the Mercer Island Police Department.

“If we have reasonable suspicion, we do what we have to do, to keep kids safe,” Harrison said.

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