I was lucky enough that whoever made these decisions decided to offer what we would now call gateway classes and college-eligible classes. I was lucky enough that my parents were there telling me I was going to go to college. And I was lucky enough that I hadn’t chosen a vocational profession. But what if I hadn’t been so fortunate? What if I was responsible for picking the classes I needed to take to contribute to my college eligibility? What if I had wanted to join the military? Or become a welder? What if my school hadn’t ensured that all the classes available to me were ones that would help me get to college? Well, I wouldn’t have had any idea which direction to face as I stepped off that stage, diploma in hand. Many students face this problem today; they are grossly under-prepared for life after high school.
At The BERC Group I have been able to get an in-depth look at programs that are working to fill in these knowledge gaps of life beyond high school. One of these programs is Navigation 101, or what we simply call “Nav.”
Another strength of the Nav program is that it uses an advisory system. This is a period of time during the day when students are grouped with the same advisor and peers to discuss their future goals. This advisory period has proven to be a great way to help students with academic and social issues. It gives each student a consistent adult presence, someone who will be in their lives for as long as they are at that school and who will be an advocate for their needs. The time in advisory helps to build trust between students and educators, as well as between peers.
Navigation 101 also allows schools to use a more student-driven scheduling process. The idea is that students are able to look in-depth at which classes they need to graduate or to be college-ready and then create a schedule for themselves based on these needs. These schedules are then taken to the counselors and administrators who review them to see where the highest demands are and create a master schedule based on these needs, rather than offering courses that have always been offered. This is how it works in a high implementation school. Obviously, it takes time to get this system fully up and running. But the goal remains the same: get students to be aware of what it takes (in this case, which classes it takes) to graduate be ready for what lies beyond high school.
Probably some of the more powerful components of the Nav program are the Student-Led Conferences and Portfolios. Throughout the course of the school year, students are guided through creating a portfolio to present to parents at the Student-Led Conferences. Often, these portfolios include the work they are most proud of as well as work that has helped them identify areas of improvement. Students are asked to set goals for each year and then reflect on whether or not they achieved these goals and, more importantly, how. Student-Led Conferences are a twist on the traditional parent-teacher conferences. The students are the ones who present their work to their parents and explain, in detail, what the portfolio is all about. Some schools have enhanced the portfolios with things like Career Boards where students give a presentation to their peers about the career they would like to have, the steps to get there, and general information about the career. For many students these prove to be a challenge, as we all know public speaking is not a favorite pastime of most people. However, many students rise to the occasion and give their parents a great look at what goes on in their school lives and where they plan to be in the future. Findings from our Year 3 Evaluation of the Navigation 101 Program showed that 85% of students, 96% of parents, and 92% of advisors reported the Student-Led Conferences were worthwhile.
I know many of my peers could have benefited from a program like this, in more ways than just for college and career readiness. At the very least it would have given us insight into futures that we may have not thought possible. I would have loved to have had this kind of program in my school because it would have helped me feel more personally responsible for my education (something I personally believe is lacking in students) and also because I believe that, when all components of Navigation 101 are engaged, it is a truly powerful tool that all students should have chance to experience.