A win becomes something more when you are unaware there is even a competition.

A win becomes something more when you are unaware there is even a competition.

That was the size of it this year for Gulf District Schools and a competition called the Florida FAFSA Challenge.

District high school guidance counselors Karen Turner at Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School and Jessica Brock at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School, understand all about FAFSA.

In the acronym-crazy world of education, that stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, in particular for Pell Grants to attend college.

The goal for guidance counselor, urge every senior and their parents to fill out and submit the application, maintain options, regardless of goals.

So, knowing about FAFSA is essential for Brock and Turner, but a competition?

Across the state?

Among all districts?

Was not exactly on the radar, as Brock explained to the Gulf County School Board last week.

That, however, was no precursor about success.

The district swept each of three small-county awards in this past year’s Florida FAFSA Challenge, in a sense, winner of a triple crown.

Winning districts were named in four enrollment categories, from large to small counties.

Among small counties, Gulf District Schools won the MVP for having the highest completion rate of FAFSA paperwork through March, 31.

The district also won Most Improved in terms of the number of students completing the paperwork through March 31 compared to the prior year, the number jumping 15 percent with students earning $40,316 more in college grant funding.

And, finally, the district also earned the “Biggest Boost” award for the biggest increase of FAFSA completion rates in one week.

And, let us emphasize, Turner and Brock were unaware any such competition existed.

In addition, it would be appropriate to insert here that Gulf joined the likes of Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange, Sarasota and Okaloosa in taking home top honors.

“It goes without saying that our principals, guidance counselors, teachers and support staff are the front line reason for our success,” said Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton. “It is certainly an honor.”

The Florida FAFSA Challenge is a statewide campaign focused on increasing the number of students who complete the paperwork as well as increasing the number of those who may earn a Pell grant.

The challenge encourages schools, districts and communities to set bold and attainable FAFSA completion goals for their students, according to a press release.

And the FAFSA is not normal paperwork, it is federal, education detailed, complex paperwork that almost “requires an advanced degree in accounting,” said Lori Price, the district’s Assistant Superintendent for Instruction.

However, statistics prove a direct, positive correlation between students completing the FAFSA paperwork and students actually attending college, helping to prevent so-called “Summer melt,” student who are accepted to college but do not attend.

The aim is for every graduating senior to demonstrate eligibility for federal student aid.

“We are working for every kid that is eligible to receive a Pell grant,” Price said.

Turner and Brock, she said, are the true honorees, dedicated to making the path from high school wide open for every senior.

“They work very hard,” Price said. “They are above and beyond in getting the students and parents to fill out the paperwork.”