Herb Monroe is assistant superintendent of Caroline County Public Schools in Virginia, and Joe Belsterling is CEO and founder of MajorCalrity, a college and career readiness technology provider.

Education has been deeply disrupted. Maintaining teaching and learning continuity amid a pandemic that closed nearly all school doors has been challenging for every education stakeholder. And, unfortunately, what appears to be certain is continued uncertainty.

However, our nation’s students will inevitably continue down their pathways — in some cases, rerouted pathways — toward their postsecondary futures. As they do so, in particular, for rising juniors and seniors, what educators do now to support them will be critical to these students’ postsecondary success. 

According to a recent survey, the student classes of 2020 and 2021 hope their schools will find a way to support them as they are fast approaching their postsecondary futures. The class of 2020 has left, yet the classes of 2021 and 2022 are already considering a future that is considerably different than what they expected even four months ago. They see massive unemployment (perhaps, impacting their own parents); major sectors of the economy seemingly shut-down; colleges changing instructional models and what “college life” might hold.

These and other contextual factors will influence how rising juniors and seniors will think about their postsecondary future and what support they will need from their schools. Educators, guidance counselors and administrators will need to become more informed on what might lie ahead for students and be prepared to adjust as the situation may change again.

Fortunately, educators are masters of flexibility and response. Consider the variety of students who walk through their doors each day with a constellation of hopes, needs and accomplishments. They are able to meet each student where they are, develop programs to meet shared needs and facilitate success.

Educators are already demonstrating the adaptability and resilience that will help advance students’ postsecondary preparedness. For example, the New Orleans school system recently launched a “bridge year” program called Next Level NOLA to help graduates manage through the transition from high school to what’s next. The University of Pennsylvania will offer public high school seniors in Philadelphia a free four-week college and career prep program. 

District leaders across Virginia are leveraging the 5 C’s to prepare future-ready graduates, because no matter how the workforce landscape may change, these skills and mindsets are at the center of employability skills. And other school systems are engaged in similar planning for supporting their recent graduates and rising juniors and seniors.

Planning in the context of extreme uncertainty requires contingencies — the “if this, then that” approach to planning. Some states and school communities have already declared or suggested their plans for Fall 2020 (e.g., online-onlyin-person with major changesreduced daily attendance). Others have not. Whatever the intent for fall 2020, planning for disruptions to these plans is a worthwhile endeavor. 

Guiding questions for schools

While planning for a dramatically different environmental context for an entire K-12 school system involves considerations for a broad range of system adjustments (e.g., transportation, classroom spacing, educator training, technology supports), we hope the unique and relatively urgent needs of juniors and seniors are not overlooked or forgotten. In order to assist educators with such considerations, we assembled the following guiding questions for schools as they plan for the 2020-21 school year.

  1. How might students’ individual learning plans evolve in order to become more central to students’ postsecondary futures? 

  2. How will students authentically explore careers and potential job opportunities?

  3. How will colleges visit or, otherwise, directly connect with students?

  4. How will students interact with their guidance counselor and/or other students with similar postsecondary plans?

  5. What virtual work-based learning opportunities can be provided for students? 

  6. What will internships, apprenticeships or practicum requirements look like?

  7. How will districts/institutions tackle equity issues.?

  8. Do all students have sufficient access to tools for college and career exploration?

  9. What new college and career exploration and engagement tools are needed in light of a remote education scenario?

  10. How might local businesses and government agencies engage students in career-relevant volunteer and/or apprenticeships?

How school systems respond to these questions will vary, however some data suggest some broad consensus. 

Career and college readiness (CCR) technology provider MajorClarity recently conducted an internal survey across its national partnership network (hundreds of school districts) to see how CCR practices were adapting to COVID-19. The overwhelming majority of school districts responded that plans for fall 2020 centered on “hybrid” models rotating students (based on many factors, such as day of the week or grade level) between in-person and virtual learning environments.

Many school systems report finding success embedding lesson plans for, and links to, their CCR platform within their LMS. On the other hand, “student engagement” (reaching students with virtual content) was the most-cited as a common school system challenge.

With the challenges schools are facing in engaging students, Caroline County Public Schools (Virginia) is also thinking about the intersection of best practices in both education and entertainment and how they can create “edutainment” opportunities that better capture student attention and participation.

Whatever the 2020–21 school year may bring, rising juniors and seniors will need continued support while they work towards goals and aspirations during such tremendous uncertainty. Fortunately, schools and educators serve as the places and people who provide stability and continuity in students’ lives, especially those students whose families may be currently experiencing incredibly challenging circumstances.

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