FARMINGTON — Both Farmington and Piedra Vista high schools are seeing major increases in scholarship dollars awarded to graduating seniors just two years after implementing a program that brought financial aid and college entrance counselors to each school.

The Financial Aid and College Entrance program, or FACE, started in 2011. In the 2010-2011 school year, seniors at Farmington High were offered $513,000 in scholarships, and Piedra Vista seniors were offered about $1 million.

For the current school year, the numbers have jumped to about $3.1 million for the graduating Farmington High class and about $10.6 million for Piedra Vista.

"I am very proud of each and every senior from the (Piedra Vista) class of 2013," FACE counselor Natalie Stark said. "Their hard work, dedication and pursuit of academic excellence is truly inspirational."

FACE, which operates off a grant from Merrion Oil and Gas, places counselors at both high schools to provide resources and assistance to students for the complex college application process.

At Farmington High, the program has seen a 504 percent increase in scholarship money awarded from the 2010-2011 school year to the current one. Last school year, Farmington High seniors netted $2.1 million in scholarships offered. This year's total was a nearly 48 percent increase over that number.


Farmington High FACE counselor Kim Coufal noted that this year's scholarship total is particularly impressive because this year's graduating class had fewer seniors, with about 190 students graduating during Tuesday's commencement ceremony. The graduating class was about 259 students last school year.

"I don't really like to focus on the amounts, however, as each senior class has its own unique challenges that students must overcome and we aren't really comparing apples to apples," Coufal said in an email. "What I prefer to look at are the increase in percentages."

The work of the FACE program has increased scholarship dollars at Farmington and Piedra Vista high schools to a level similar to other area high schools.

Aztec High School head counselor Dorene Bohannon said that the school's 188 graduating seniors have been offered $8.3 million for this school year, down from $8.8 million in the previous school year.

"We're really proud of the kids for following through and getting their stuff down in a timely manner," Bohannon said. "We're thrilled to see them grow and achieve their goals."

Bloomfield High School principal Cody Diehl said school officials do not track scholarship dollars offered to graduating seniors.

The figures for offered scholarship dollars can reach high dollar amounts for individual students. Piedra Vista senior Brandon Connor, for example, was offered $2.2 million from 17 different colleges and universities he applied to. Connor settled on Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pa., a private liberal arts college with about 1,500 students. Swarthmore College representatives flew Connor out for a campus visit and offered him full tuition for four years.

"(FACE counselor Natalie) Stark helped me pick out opportunities for all the schools and helped me along the process," Connor said. "If it was me and my parents, I don't think I would have been able to see all those options. It would be a lot harder process."

Stark said the FACE counselors manage deadlines for testing and scholarships and also establish relationships with students.

"If the students know you are invested in their life, then that is what makes all the difference in the world," she said. "So when they come to you and they are really sharing their dreams, they are taking a small piece of their life and sharing it with you."

In the second year of the program at Piedra Vista, Stark said she tried a few new techniques, including starting a college fair and assigning all seniors a "common app" style essay. Seniors were asked to write an essay in a style that would be compatible with many college applications or answer a question that could be prompted by a scholarship application.

"They'll have a very general scholarship question like, Where do you see yourself in 10 years? What is your educational goals?'" Stark said. "Every senior had to write something like that. It helps them tremendously."

This school year was the first year that Piedra Vista hosted an organized college fair with more than 35 different colleges and universities from throughout the southwest.

For the upcoming school year, Stark hopes to expand the college fair to include more higher education institutes and provide students opportunities to interact with professionals and businesses from the area.

With a grant from BP America, Coufal and Stark have added a part-time employee to help them expand the efforts of the program.

"We'll have more opportunities to do things with after school and reach out into the community to find mentorship for kids and more career education," Stark said.

Joshua Kellogg can be reached at; 505-564-4627. Follow him on Twitter @JKelloggDT.