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Washington-Marion junior Simone Collins said she doesn’t think she would have made it this far in school without the College for Every Student program.

“Before I joined CFES, I was always following what other people were doing and never spoke up for what I had in mind,” she said. “When I started helping the community and participating in leadership activities, I started to express my thoughts more often. Now, I want to be an influence on someone else.”

Collins was among students recognized Monday morning as Washington-Marion was named a School of Distinction by CFES.

In order to be considered for the recognition, the school met a strict set of criteria, including implementing college and career readiness programs and involving scholar families in activities.

“When we started it, we knew the potential we had with this program — of what it could bring to this school, how it would impact scholars, just the campus all together,” said assistant principal Jesse Unkel. “I don’t know if we had any idea just how successful it would be and how much it would play such a big role in our scholars’ lives.”

As part of the program, 11th-grade mentors meet with ninth-graders twice a month, complete community service programs and attend college tours and leadership workshops.

Collins said through the workshops, her goal of becoming a pediatrician now seems attainable.

“I want to give back to my school because I believe everyone should have the opportunity to become accomplished,” she said.

Kourtlen Thomas, a senior CFES mentor, said the program emphasizes life lessons.

“Every mentor and mentee in this room is human, meaning we all need help because none of us are perfect,” he said. “Only when we work together, hand-in-hand, can we achieve the essential skills in what makes such great leaders because we are the future of tomorrow.”

Thomas said when he joined the program he struggled with teamwork skills.

“Honestly, I didn’t like people,” he said. “But when put in situations where communicating has the power to change someone’s life, it’s almost like you’re forced to leave your comfort zone and instinctively help. That to me is the true essence of CFES.”

John McDonald, CFES program director, said it’s unusual for a school so new to the program to achieve so much success this early.

“This is happening in only the school’s second year of being involved in CFES,” he said. “It’s amazing how much growth the school has done to be recognized out of the thousands of schools and the hundreds of thousands of students that CFES works with.”