Champion the Class of 2021: A Timely Impact Opportunity

The four million young people in the U.S. high school class of 2021 have been through a lot. Stripped of most that is fun and engaging about their senior year, many of them suffered through hastily prepared virtual learning and spotty video classes. They lost access to friends, extracurricular activities, work, and service-learning opportunities.

Thousands disengaged and gave up on school, no longer on track to graduate. Some faced increased need to work to support families in financial distress.

Those on track will graduate into a pandemic recession where there are fewer jobs for youth and more expensive virtual versions of college.

The class of 2021 could use some help getting to the finish line, making good choices, and telling their story.

Getting to Graduation

Like last spring, now is a good time for school teams to get creative about credit completion–not just the old drill and click credit recovery labs, but credit for work experience and projects to complete courses. Some students will need extra time and support — this spring and into summer.

Some state legislatures are considering funding an extra year of high school. That could be beneficial if it includes free access to college credit and industry credentials.

Making a Thoughtful Transition

With complicated choices about work and postsecondary learning, most 2021 grads could use more personalized and localized guidance over the next few months.

Many college experiences are still heavily mitigated and may well be into next year–and they’re still charging full price. Many degree programs have grown so expensive that (at least in the short run) they no longer offer a return on investment–and, if pursued with loans, present the risk of the worst-case scenario of debt without a degree.

Strada Education has a couple of resources that can help guide postsecondary choices: College Fair is a free mobile application that helps you explore options. College Confidential offers topical forums and virtual campus tours.

Many soon-to-be graduates are considering alternatives: starting at a local community college or earning a low-cost online degree while they work, or taking a paid apprenticeship and earning industry certificates and college credit while gaining access to high-wage high-demand employment.

A gap year could be a good option for those that are able. In a pandemic pivot, Global Citizen Year developed a 12 week Academy, a 5-10 hour per week commitment that adds an enriching layer of purpose to school, travel, or work.

A local spring career fair (perhaps in person and online) could extend access to important information for juniors and seniors. Check out the Beaumont ISD Virtual Job Fair.

Helping Grads Tell Their Story

The pandemic brought the challenge, loss, and struggle. For some, it spurred new interests, rekindled relationships, and created opportunities to serve. Many graduates could use help shaping and telling their story–their social impact journey, their persistence…

That could start with a great essay. Story2 is an education app that helps youth, “Unlock storytelling to live out loud” with StoryBuilder, on-demand courses, and practice exercises.

Every young person would benefit from a great personal pitch–both in the form of a cover letter and video. “Stories of adaptability, ingenuity, and community-mindedness will undoubtedly impress in the pandemic era,” said college admissions expert Dr. Aviva Legatt.

A portfolio of artifacts from personal best learning experiences can empower graduates to show what they know. Headrush supports project-based learning and portfolio development. Check out a sample Bulb portfolio and examples of projects captured on Portfolium.

Schools can help grads tell their story with an extended transcript that, in addition to a list of courses and grades, describes capabilities, experiences, aspirations. It can include digital credentials, certifications, licenses, vaccination status.

High school learners in Texas benefit from Greenlight Credentials which allows them to share some or all of their digital profile with employers and colleges

Every learner should graduate from high school with a strong LinkedIn profile with business and civic connections, publications of personal bests, and a resume of work experiences. Profiles should use a professional picture, headline career goals, use excerpts of college essays, list advanced courses taken, credentials earned, volunteer service, and skills developed. You can also turn your personal pitch into a video story to your LinkedIn profile.

Encourage Youth Leadership

Helping the class of 2021 to graduate and transition is a great youth leadership opportunity–for this class, for rising seniors, and for recent grads.

With the help of a school or community sponsor, we’d love to see 21CHAMPIONS (or something like that) formed in every community to help students graduate, tell their stories, and make good choices.

Young people could organize (or help organize):

  • A local career fair where young people can speak with employers, counselors, and postsecondary institutions;
  • A “You Have a Story to Tell” personal pitch day where they work on their cover letter and video; or
  • A build your profile day where learners work on their LinkedIn profile and portfolio;

April is a great month to champion the class of 2021. If you’re already a champion for the class of 2021, we’d love to hear your story.  Comment on this post, use the hashtag #21Champions, or email [email protected] to share your story with us.

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Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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