We don’t teach kids how to do school….or life. Most young people don’t just pick up through osmosis the self-management skills to succeed in school or the project management know-how to get themselves to and through the right college.
I didn’t play baseball in high school (high on my father’s list of disappointments). I ran track but wasn’t very good in any event so my coach told me to try the pentathlon where you had to be pretty good at five things. I strikes me that going to college is like a pentathlon; young people need to be good at least five things: math and English (as demonstrated on a placement exam), overall grades, SAT or ACT scores, and a resume thick with activities and service. I had the benefit of a coach for my pentathlon; most high school students are on their own.
Going to college is the most important and most difficult decision of a young person’s life—and their family. Making the college decision is a monster story problem with at least a dozen variables including location, size, major, tuition, aid, entrance requirements, credit transfer, and diversity. It is easily the most important decision a family will make with the least decision support.
My senior year, I went to state in high jump. After a long bus ride, I arrived at the state track meet only to find that the open height was higher than what I had cleared to place in the district meet. I had the same feeling a few months later after scoring a 23% on my first college chem test. It’s a lousy feeling to be completely unprepared for the next step in life. Too many students feel that way when they reach high school and then college.
In school, the mystery starts early. I remember as a superintendent and parent finding out about the secret path to college starting with 6th grade where a good report meant honors math in 7th, which meant algebra in 8th, and on to the college track in high school. Struggling students wouldn’t find out until sometime during the middle of high school that they were not going to be prepared for college.
On the first day of 9th grade, I went to school with my daughter. We spent 5 minutes with a counselor. She told us about Art, Aviation, Biology, Chemistry (I think she had alphabetized her course brochures). I remember attending ‘arena registration’ for the first year of high school (another benefit of being an administrator) where my daughter’s course selection criteria was social not academic, “my friend is taking this” and “everyone said to avoid him.” I reminded her of our 8th grade discussion of options, “You’ll be doing college level work in two years, AP, IB or dual enrollment.”
These subtle tracking devices and lack of guidance unfortunately mean that most schools simply replicate social class. That is unless you live in Washington State—the only state with a statewide contract for an online guidance system.
When I was a superintendent, I supported a principal’s struggle to implement an advisory period in an attempt to improve personalization and academic guidance. With a counseling ratios of 400:1 or worse, a distributed counseling model is the only way to personalize a traditional high school. We implemented an advisory, but without a curriculum. Some teachers made good use of the time, others were completely unprepared (and unwilling) to serve as mentors and advisors.
I went on to work with a small family foundation in Seattle that grew and was able to fund about 1200 new schools, all of them with advisories, but most of them content free. A structured guidance program and an online decision support system is what we were missing.
Starting almost a decade ago the Franklin-Pierce district and Kashi Tahir and the Envictus team began building solutions to this problem. They joined forces a couple years ago and now support schools across Washington State and across the country.
Navigation 101 is a comprehensive online guidance system that teaches young people how to succeed in school and now walks them through the all important post secondary decision with the decision support they deserve. It can be structured as a course or used as curriculum during an advisory period. (I don’t have a financial stake in Envictus, but I do have a stake in the future of Washington).
We can’t afford to assume that students are equipped to succeed in high school and make the best post-secondary decision. I’m proud of Washington State for partnering with Envictus to make Navigation 101 available to all students. Every family deserves the same.