While golfing with a professor friend, he asked, “What were the challenges the first year of your CE program?”
Without hesitation, four opportunities for improvement came to mind (though we had a very successful first year), and I could prioritize our next goals instantly: counselor training, teacher development, student vetting and training; and documenting processes. For this blog entry, I want to concentrate on the first person students and parents meet: the all-important college and career counselor.
Counselors are our boots-on-the-ground, but they aren’t always comfortable with college and career counseling. Many have multifaceted roles, with social and emotional counseling taking priority at a moment's notice. Many are simply uncomfortable with the process and language of CE advising. I was a college department chair, and I wasn’t always at ease advising students, so I get it. On this score, I have three bits of advice:
1: Create a Counselor’s CE Reference Guide, from how to complete the required CE forms to submission deadlines, to college advising checklists for various degree programs. And don’t reinvent the wheel. Many good resources for counselors are out there, and you can model yours on what’s already available.
2: Meet face-to-face for training with all counselors at the beginning of the year and one-to-one as needed. Some are so ill-at-ease with the many-layered CE process that they don’t know the right language. If folks don’t know the lexicon, they’re reticent in student-parent meetings, or they try to hand it off to another person. We invite someone in College and Career Planning from our local college to help with this training. Additionally, we want our counselors to hear the perspective of the college’s CE Coordinator--what she needs for forms, class lists, student registration, etc. For the one-to-one sessions, we meet with counselors in their offices, so we can go over their actual student files, show them key websites, or review the reference guide.
3: Encapsulated in the content of #s 1 and 2, what makes for a good student candidate? This can be tricky because some may think that previous grades take precedence. But personal readiness is equally important. Do students have the 21st-century skills to navigate the college process and classroom? In training, we cover the importance of self-advocacy and what that looks like with various examples. Also, high-achieving students will take heavy loads if allowed, but do they have other obligations, such as fine arts, clubs, sports, AP classes? Many students don’t understand the rigor of college classes with less face time, so we must give them a feel for that as well. To not take this extra step in the process could ultimately discourage a student who fails at the end of a semester. In many cases, slight adjustments in planning and preparing prevent negative results
It takes time and energy, but these steps bring great results. We saw a high pass rate and expect an even better one this year with many more students in the program.