Connecting directly and utilizing resources paramount for college readiness
Panelists at the 2017 National Principal Conference stressed the importance of make strong connections with students and staff
The proper preparation of students for college and career success was top-of-mind for principals and administrators in attendance at this week’s National Principal Conference in Philadelphia, and it was clear that efforts to procure the necessary resources and courses to burnish student’s experiential learning must be coupled by an investment on the human level by teachers, advisors and administrators.
Gavin Arneson, the national winner in the National Honor Society Scholarship Program, spoke at a panel discussion about the practices NHS-affiliated advisors and administrators discerned in student development. He said he had found the foundation he needed in the consistent presence of his adult educators.
“It’s important to recognize developing personal relationships with your students is imperative,” he said. “If you can discover in your students a passion...a student can discover what they want to be in life, who they want to become. I think, as administrators, you are in a unique position to do that, and develop a roadmap on how to get there.”
Maintaining a presence in students’ lives
During the discussion, Dr. Jonathan Mathis, the director of the NHS at the National Association of Secondary School Principals, spoke about research conducted by George Kuh and colleagues on the pre-college experiences that could lead to more productive outcomes in a student’s postsecondary life, beginning with the need for choices in enrollment.
“When students are thinking about their trajectory, they should have multiple options and multiple pathways,” he said. “How do you help students make enrollment choices based on their need?”
Mathis also cited the need for academic preparation, including for students to become critical thinkers. He said college readiness, including in non-cognitive aspects such as time management and grit, needed to be considered, as well as family and peer support — or a lack thereof, as principals may be the most consistent person in a student’s life. He also pointed to encouraging student’s motivation to learn, as well as needing to account and run interference on any discouraging trends in particular demographics.
One principal in the audience who had conducted several recent college visits with students remarked that college admissions officers were prizing skills in writing and critical thinking when considering applicants.
Arneson was enrolled at Clear Creek High School in Clear Creek School District, CO. Superintendent Roslin Marshall said the district was located 30 minutes west of Denver, but was considered a rural district, with 870 students enrolled in K-12 among three elementary schools, with one middle/high school shared campus. She stressed the importance of community service, which could double as an instilling of service in students, but also could be a conduit to interests and passions unknown to students beforehand. The district's most recent graduating high school class of 50 students had accounted for about 4,500 service hours, she noted.
Dr. Skyler Artes, a French teacher at Clear Creek High School who also works as an NHS advisor and advised Arneson as he pursued the scholarship, agreed with Marshall, saying service opportunities could help students find the issues that were of importance to them. While some students proceeded through school with a “laser-like focus” on the college and career ambitions, she noted there were others who don't necessarily have a clear path. She sees her role as both supportive and that she should be as absent as possible, because if her suggestions overwhelmingly directed a student’s path, that student’s voice could be in danger of being subsumed.
“There’s a stated objective starting with middle school that we expect 100% student engagement with one activity,” she said about the district. “But it’s via that activity that teachers have the time to engage with students, and help them find their voice, whatever that voice, and help them toward empowering it.”
District finds imaginative avenues to support, resources
In a separate discussion, Dr. Abbey Duggins, the assistant principal for instruction at Saluda High School, SC, and Sarah Longshore, the school’s principal, spoke about the ways in which the district increased opportunities and resources for students and educators in a cash-strapped rural district.
Saluda County Schools had approximately 2,200 students, according to Longshore, with the high school and middle school sharing a facility, like Clear Creek. The primary employment opportunities in the area included production and transportation, construction and farming. The district had the fastest growing Latino population in the state, with the student demographics evenly split between white, Latino and African-American students.
“We know they’re going to be competing against students from all over the world, and we know that tomorrow won’t wait for our students,” she said, noting the district hoped to exceed the profile of an exemplary South Carolina graduate as dictated by the state. “In essence, we believe that world class knowledge will help our students get a job, world class skills will help us keep a job, and life and career characteristics will help them get the promotion.”
Innovations the district had made in the past several years included the expansion of the after-school tutoring and mentoring program SCORE (Saluda Creates Opportunities for Real Effectiveness). Duggins said the after-school program was successful, but more seemed needed. The district supplied transportation for students, which could be beneficial in a rural district that was geographically vast. In subsequent years, the school added a robotics club, introduced piano and guitar lessons, integrated a makerspace into its media center, and built the Tiger Leadership Institute, an orientation program for rising ninth graders. Duggins said it's important for administrators to work with students and parents to overcome a notion that such programs were remediation or summer school.
“We take our kids on college visits, they do soft skills, bring the most dynamic teachers in to lead, so kids get a nice taste for what is best for high school,” Duggins said, noting the school also expanded AP courses and recruited AP teachers. “It took away the stigma that SCORE is for kids who are struggling, but it’s also for schools that are striving.”
Additionally, the district was able to update school science labs, after a self-assessment that science exam scores were not satisfactory. The district consulted with science teachers, who said the labs were outdated. At times, the breakers would trip if too many tools were being employed. Duggins said that sometimes educators were reticent to ask for what was needed.
“Our teachers were in the mindset of, ‘We don’t have money, so we’re not going to ask.’ But when we know what we need, we can piece together the funding to get the teachers what they need,” Duggins said.
The district asked for a Title I allocation to replace lab equipment, and were able to purchase new tools, including Vernier science software for the classroom. Additionally, replacing old and inconsistent equipment with new tech freed up funding to help pay for maintenance issues like circuit breakers that wouldn’t necessarily be applicable to Title I funding.
Still, after considering the enhancements, innovations and resources made available to the district, Duggins and Longshore both stressed the importance of building relationships via teacher development, and of using their innovations to encourage community among students.
Arneson also asserted how important school leaders could be in the pursuit of college and career-readiness. He expressed his appreciation for educators and peers in his past who had helped him achieve what he had in the midst of a challenging childhood. This fall, he will be attending New York University.
“This was a community effort,” he said about his academic success. “And that can be replicated in any community anywhere, by you, the principals."