683 College Tour Program

The 683 College Tour Program and Its Role in the St. Pius College Search Process.

6 class wide tours to 8 colleges and universities in their first 3 years of high school. Nobody – no high school in all of the St. Louis area does anywhere near this.

Add to this the fact we bring in 60-70 college reps every year to visit with the students during the lunch hour. The reps love this lunch hour and how we make them feel welcomed. 

How so?  First, the entire student body is given full access to every rep as they are stationed in the Annex during the entire lunch hour.  Few high schools allow underclassmen to do this.

Secondly, Mrs. Bergmann from the main office personally escorts every rep to the Annex. Then Mr. Zielonko will personally host each rep for the entire hour.  As they are welcomed into the Annex, each is given a hand written St. Pius Thank You note in which is The Bribe.  This Bribe has been given for many years now to each rep on their first visit of the year.  Most come back in the spring – and they WANT too!  Mr. Zielonko hands it to them and says,” This is a bribe.  We are very up front with our bribes at St. Pius.  I can give you good kids and I can give you smart kids.  I cannot give you rich kids.  So, when our students’ admission’s applications come across your desk, please remember The Bribe – and give them money. Scholarship monies invested in St. Pius students is money well spent. Our students – our assets – become your students – your assets.”  This Bribe is a $10 Panera Gift Card.  Their eyes light up and they are SO appreciative.  Think about this, these people eat their meals alone and on the road every day. Oftentimes they use the card immediately after leaving St. Pius. The essence of St. Pius comes back to them again and again – mind, belly, and soul…

Then the students begin to arrive.  The students are expected to greet the rep with a firm handshake while looking them in the eyes and introducing themselves by name, class and hopefully a leading question like:  I am thinking about computer science.  What do have along those lines? The reps are SO impressed with this because it does not happen in other schools. Maz stands back to watch and listen.  After the students leave and if there is time, maz will advocate for the students who just left, adding when possible personal insights as to why this college wants this student.  For example to the Benedictine rep, “Steve is a very strong Catholic and would be a great fit for BC.  He serves at mass here and is very involved in every facet of St. Pius, from St. Vincent De Paul to soccer to the Pro Life trip to DC. (BC sends one of the largest PL contingents in the country to DC to The March. More on how maz knows this later.)  The reps are often blown away at the reception here, the number of students who visit, the manners and friendliness of the students and the welcoming environment in the Annex.  (It was Julie Werkmeister’s idea about the Panera Gift Cards.  I wanted to give them something, and Julie suggested this! Thank you Julie!)  Also, time permitting, I explain the three white signs in the Annex.  I use these to try to further demonstrate how we are a different kind of high school.  EVERYTHING that happens during their visit reaffirms this!  They all leave happy and impressed – all 45 or so of them this first semester and a record 73 for the school year!  The reps tell me our lunch time visits are like no others.  In fact one just two weeks ago commented she had been to three school visits before us that week and saw NOT ONE PERSON – not one student, one teacher, one counselor -  NOBODY!  At St. Pius they interact, not just see, dozens of people.  We are well known in the St. Louis area for this.  It’s not bragging if it is true… but I will not hesitate to brag on St. Pius – ever. This all happens 60 – 70 times a year.  So, a proactive Pius student could visit with upwards of 250 + college reps in their four years at St. Pius. 

My wife, Teresa Zielonko is a college counselor now at Cor Jesu Academy (after two years at Vianney and 20+ years at Hillsboro). Our daughter, Harper, graduated from Hendrix College with a degree in Psychology and now an MBA from Maryville University. She is currently working for Habitat for Humanity in St. Louis after gigs at Habitat in Little Rock and San Francisco various other non-profits and part time whatever it took to pay the bills.  Our son Dylan is a Truman grad who changed his major four times (with our blessings and guidance until he “Found” himself.  And he did.) He graduated with a Communication degree and a Film Studies Minor.  He is employed with Trader Joes in St. Louis and The Farm Journal Foundation and is very into urban farming and urban food desert projects like The Metro Market. Both studied abroad.  Both graduated with student loan debts.  Their parents also went into considerable (and more) debt!

So, to summarize and why this is pertinent, we are just like most Pius families. We are a typical middle class family who have a daughter and a son.  Both graduated from St. Pius and both were well prepared for the rigors of college life both in and out of the classroom.  Eternal and far reaching Thank Yous to the Mr. Taylors of St. Pius, Mr.  Werkmeister, Jerry Woods, Ms. Wencker, and on and on… It does indeed take a village! One graduated from a private college and one from a public college.  Both studied abroad and now have friends all over the world.  Both visited 8 colleges on 18 family college visits.  This cost a lot of time and effort and money.  Every trip was worth every minute, ounce of energy and every dollar invested (not spent!).  We are big believers the college selection process is a family process and a family decision.  So, we have a very common background, but it includes a background of experiences which better allows both Teresa and myself to better relate to our students and parents in our respective high schools.

And here is The Kicker:  Between Teresa and myself but usually together, we have visited about 200 colleges and universities in 27 states. We just saw 6 more in the fictional land of Montana three summers ago.  Then spent two days at Ole Miss in Oxford. Eleven more this past summer. No high school (except Cor Jesu of course) in St. Louis has a college counselor with this combination of background experiences within the family AND with actual relationships with those many colleges. We have been to Dayton, to Notre Dame and St. Mary’s across the street. To Bradley and to Knox and to DePauw and Rockhurst and Ole Miss and on and on.  So when students want to talk about these schools, we have been there and done that.  That HAS to be a good thing. Yes we are college visit junkies.  What a blast it is! I strongly suggest you hit the road too!

And speaking of hitting the road… Now to the 683 Program.  First of all, please know I do not believe everybody should go to college. I am pro military, pro trade school, and pro just go into the work force right upon graduation. (I am also pro just take off and hike around the world a bit too. You may not be, but this is when I say this is a FAMILY decision and bow out of your lives! )  Whatever you are ready for at that time of life, I will encourage you to do.

As you may know, the first leg of the 683 Program is the freshmen go to Jefferson College and I am a BIG fan of the entire junior college system in the United States.  Thank you, President Johnson. About 25-30% of our students will go the two year route and know well, I am all for it. 

The second trip is with the sophomores to Saint Louis University and Webster University.  The next is the fall tour for the sophomore class of the Southeast Missouri State University. SEMO pays for lunch for every student, so they even get to have the college cafeteria experience. Then, and it was the original tour about 13 years ago now, the juniors travel to McKendree University in Lebanon, Illinois and to SIU- Edwardsville.  McKendree provides an entirely free lunch pass for everyone.  Holy smokes is it good.

And recently, along with your generosity, we are able to add the fifth tour. This entire idea began years ago when long time social studies teacher here, Rick Wood, and I were exchanging thoughts on our mutual interest in Winston Churchill.  We have both visited the Churchill Museum several times and their newest multi-million dollar renovation has only made the experience more spectacular. We fanaticized about taking an entire class there for the college tour and museum tour on the same day. I bounced it off our then rep from Westminster, Susie Steurmann, who offered to help make this happen at any time. Rick and I both did not think it would really ever happen. Fast forward to a conversation I was having with Father Nemeth who mentioned the Parents Club might be interested in helping us out.  Now it is going to happen one way or another! The first was in March of 2016. (Insert fist pump here!)

We will leave St. Pius at 7 am for the two hour coach bus ride to Fulton. At 9ish we will listen to an overview presentation about the college by our new rep, terrific presenter, Pius loving Mike Grezeski.  Mike was our rep from SLU for many years and made all the SLU tours happen.  Mike really knows his stuff and really does continue to take care of Pius students from the application process through scholarships and even after they are enrolled as freshmen.  He did this at SLU and will be such an asset for Pius students at Westminster. After the presentation we split into two groups. Half do a walking tour of Westminster and half tour the Churchill Museum. At 11 we meet for a Westminster paid lunch in their cafeteria.  After this we simply switch the groups.  At 1 we head home to arrive, God willing, at 3.

And finally, through the generosity of Pius graduate and Columbia College rep for us Ben Overberg, Columbia College is hosting the juniors in the fall for the now 6th Tour!  And they are paying for EVERYTHING!  Coach buses, lunch, presentation and tour, all in one great day.

There is no doubt as to the many benefits from these tours.  I could go on and on.  However, maybe the most important is the students get so excited to continue the college search process and many quickly go on more tours to more schools, this time with their parents!   Imagine that!

All of this above (And it is all so interconnected isn’t it?) is why every year our students graduate to move on to many amazing places and adventures at colleges from California to New Jersey to Florida and, as important to Hillsboro and SEMO and UMSL and Westminster and Missouri S and T and…  Lat year’s 73 seniors were accepted to 35 schools in 7 states.  They are attending 24 different schools in 7 states.

Yes, it takes the combined efforts of many and it takes four years and it takes a bit of money. We are talking about $5,000 for all the bus fees for 5 tours and the entire student body of St. Pius.  And Columbia College pays for everything for the 6th Tour. This is about $17 per student.  We have a donor who is purchasing all the Churchill Museum tickets for the students and teachers. (The entire Social Studies Department is going along with maz.)

6 class wide tours to 8 colleges and universities in their first 3 years at St. Pius. The 683 College Tour Program

No high school in St. Louis can match this.

It only happens at St. Pius… And it only happens…The St. Pius Way.