College Readiness and College Planning
We believe that college readiness and college planning are interconnected pieces of a common process. With college readiness as a core focus of virtually every school district in the United States, what are students being made ready for if they are not being guided in planning their college pathways? In many states, meeting the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks is a requirement for being awarded high school diplomas. Yet, we are not aware of a single school district that has ‘college planning’ as a core focus. Without such focus, even the best students are left to determine where they should apply to college, how they should apply to college, and how they will pay for college. While many students whose parents graduated from college struggle to answer such questions, virtually no first-generation college students are equipped to answer such questions. The failure of high schools to address such questions has resulted in well documented, if not tragic, outcomes: 43% of students undermatch (49% for Black students), $1.56 trillion incurred in student loan debt, and only 58.3% of first-time students graduate from college in six years. These are not failures in readiness, these are failures in planning.
Over the past 7 years, well ahead of the COVID-19 required move to online learning, we have been successfully engaging middle school and high school students in virtual learning. In 2013, we used the backward design approach, pioneered by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe at Vanderbilt University in integrating eLearning into our expanded website design. (Bowen, Ryan S., (2017). Understanding by Design. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Retrieved 7/15/2020 from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/understanding-by-design/).
The backward design approach begins with identifying learning goals—the knowledge and skills we want students to learn. Once the learning goals have been established, the second stage involves consideration of assessment. The foundational instructional approach is to develop learning goals and assessments prior to developing content. This intentional approach to lesson design results in high levels of student engagement and measurable learning outcomes, particularly beneficial in a virtual learning environment.
Our successful instructional approach to college planning is indisputable. Our Guilford County Schools Program (NC) is the recipient of the 2020 Magna Award, awarded by the National School Boards Association to school districts with student enrollments of over 20,000. Our curriculum has guided students from diverse socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds into full scholarships and admission to the country’s most selective colleges and universities. And, our students have developed such a keen sense of leadership and service that they have returned to serve as mentors and interns for our program.
Monthly Presentations and Small Group Discussions
Each monthly module in our online curriculum for students in grades 9 – 11 culminates in a final presentation, through which students summarize what they learned and how the information has been incorporated into their college planning. These presentations provide the context for college planning conversations with students, parents, counselors, and mentors. The presentations are shared with Discussion Group Leaders and other students in our all-virtual grade-level small group discussions. While each student is provided with a set of slides to be used in summarizing their research and narrative writing, the quality of each student’s work and depth of thought reveals each student’s college readiness AND college planning.
What is a Quality Presentation?
Some of the most capable and accomplished middle school and high school students participating in our program serve on our College Planning Cohort Youth Leadership Board, as interns and discussion group leaders, and as curriculum reviewers. They represent students who are maximizing the college readiness opportunities within their respective school districts and the college planning guidance provided in our program. The educator John Holt, in his book, “How Children Learn,” notes:
How much people can learn at any moment depends on how they feel at that moment about the task and their ability to do the task. When we feel powerful and competent, we leap at difficult tasks. The difficulty does not discourage us; we think, “Sooner or later, I’m going to get this.” At other times, we can only think, “I’ll never get this, it’s too hard for me, I’m never any good at this kind of thing, why do I have to do it,” etc. Part of the art of teaching is being able to sense which of these moods learners are in.
We not only believe in consistently and continually encouraging and reaffirming students, but in cultivating an environment of encouragement and support from other students. Holt shares a fundamental belief that children learn best from other children. This is at the heart of our small group discussions, during which time, students share their monthly presentations.
Consistent with John Holt’s belief that students learn best from other students, each month, on this page, we will share examples of final presentations submitted by our students. Students and parents are encouraged to visit this page to ‘see’ what a high-quality and thoughtful presentation looks like as a guide. The presentations reflect students’ personality types, gifts, and talents. Some presentations are comprised entirely of text, while other presentations incorporate color and images.
Hello! My name is Rachel and I am currently a Junior at Marietta High School in Marietta, Georgia. I’m an INFP, enrolled in the IB Program (International Baccalaureate) and attend many other extracurriculars, such as National Honor Society, Leaders of Tomorrow and many more. I am interested in psychology and biochemistry and want to engage in research in both subjects in the near future. Through my December Presentation, I reflected upon my current leadership positions and what positions I will take in the future in terms of the activities and community services that I do. I reviewed my resumé, Modules 1, 2, and 3 presentations to help me with my reflection. In it, I was also able to plan for what I will be doing during the summer of 2021.Some future careers I am thinking of are; psychologist or behavioral biology.
Overall, I am more than grateful to have such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be granted to me and others in the Pinellas County Schools because I find it to be a valuable asset in a really pivotal moment of a student’s education. I have gained a lot of insights in the college planning process, especially in the narratives aspect of it. I have also been able to utilize my profile, résumé, and my narratives in order to reflect on my progress in my high school career. I was able to think of my accomplishments and how I could build upon that and further improve myself. The biggest takeaway from my participation in the boot camp for me would have to be its ability to motivate me to pursue my goals and ambitions. Being able to do research and planning for the future has given me the confidence and courage that I really needed in order to be on the right path and sticking to it. Through my monthly presentations I have the opportunity to process and present what I have learned and how my college plan is developing. Education Objectives: MD-PhD; Pediatric Oncologist