My doctoral research five years ago was all about why students drop out of high school. I was surprised to learn that historically 70% of students complete high school with a diploma, and that statistic is less for African American and Latino males (50%). The decision to drop out of school is complex but it is a factor of being engaged in school (involved in clubs or sports or performing arts), how classes are taught, support systems in place, peer relationships, and the discipline policies in place. (My dissertation and research can be found here).
Many students make one mistake in high school and then end up expelled from school. The research shows that one of the many factors that can help students to be successful through their high school years is the presence of a caring adult. Now this adult can be a parent or teacher or counselor or church leader or scout leader. In much of the research, mentoring programs – those that pair at-risk students with adult mentors – are also successful in helping students to complete high school. The problem is that mentoring programs take time, money and human resources to be effective and are often difficult to become part of the ongoing funding and culture of the regular school program. For the students involved in school academics, clubs, sports or performing arts, they generally find that other caring adult in addition to their parents. But for the students who are not involved in these types of school activities, they are less likely to have access to those types of caring adults.
I have been wrestling with these thoughts over the past five years and wondering what type of system could better support all students. The first phase of providing a system towards this direction is the ForwarDirections College Career and Coaching Team. My colleague Carole Smoot and I have established ForwarDirections as a non-profit in California to develop a support network to guide students in the process of applying to college from their freshman year of high school through their freshman year of college.
Our first phase is a fee-based college and career system for students who choose to join us. We hope in the future to secure funding so that a number of students may be part of a scholarship program so we can serve a wider network of students. We also know that applying to college is largely a state-by-state process because of how high schools in different states interact with colleges and how each state has their own set of colleges. So, we are starting with our service to students in California, but hope we can expand our ideas into other states in the future. We have also been involved in securing a certificate in college admissions counseling so we can better understand the overall process, read the research and learn how to best support students in the complex process of career and college decision making.
We have spent the last year working with our first students and learned a lot about the support systems needed to support a small group of students from a distance using a variety of online tools. We believe the 21st century model of college and career counseling is one that is directed by student interests, guided by adult career coaches and provides a safe online environment where students can share ideas with one another. Future posts will provide some of the research that has informed our direction.
In the meantime, if you’re interested in receiving our monthly newsletter, feel free to sign up and join us. And feel free to “Like” our Facebook page. We are both excited about this next part of our journey in supporting students.