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Friday, April 6, 2018

College and Career Readiness: What Should it Really Look Like?


Andrew Larson
Columbus Signature Academy New Tech High School
@andrewmlarson

The modern American high school is busy preparing students for the future, yet we have no idea what the future holds. Has this always been the case? Not to the extent that we are now realizing. As automation replaces some jobs and paves the way for new ones, the new worker needs to be ready for whatever opportunities the future presents.

What, then,  does college and career readiness mean today? I reached out to those for whom the memory is fresh: alumni from Columbus Signature Academy New Tech High School, our Project- Based Learning school in Columbus, Indiana.

I asked them what they most appreciated and most lacked as they moved into the college and career phases of life. Their comments are a good reminder of what matters most in school, as well as a hint of what is hopefully the future of American schools. Here is what they told me.

I was shocked. The college workload is relentless (as most of us recall.) Mason Nowels, Class of
Mason Nowels
2013, went on to study Aerospace Engineering at the University of Cincinnati. “
I found that I was not prepared for the amount of work I got. At all. I can't count the number of nights that I have spent working until 11 or later. I also wasn't prepared for bad grades. I was a straight A student in highschool and after the first test in Calculus 1 I called my mother freaking out because I thought I got a C.  You have to work REALLY hard in order to get all A's in college. Also going to your professor and complaining that something is too hard won't work. They will offer to help you learn it, but they won't make it easier. If you want to pass you need to know the content.

There is no getting around the “shock and awe” that college freshmen experience. However, as with all things in life, what matters is how we react to those shocks. One of the attributes of success seems to be possessing a Growth Mindset. Having a growth mindset means finding the value and lessons from failures, remaining open to feedback and not viewing it as a threat or insult, and understanding that you will not be good at everything, notat first.

PBL, as a model, emphasizes growth mindset and as such, has measurable benefits for developing persistence in college. According to the New Tech Network Student Outcomes Report for 2016, NTN graduates that went on to a four- year college persisted at a 92% rate. In the age where being accepted to and starting a college education does not mean finishing it, this is an encouraging statistic.

With practice comes growth. Will it be hard? Yes. Will you struggle? Definitely. Will you make it to the finish line? With a growth mindset, you have a much better chance.

Katheryn Henderson
Katheryn Henderson, CSA Class of 2014, remarks that she lacked confidence in high school. Thankfully, her growth mindset and interpersonal skills have taken her far in her career at Indiana State University. "I have great oral communication skills, but I couldn’t make a phone call to ask for donations or sponsorships (while my boss listening) without freezing up. Now one year later, I can make phone calls with no hesitation. My confidence finally paid off when I made the Dean’s List for Fall 2017.”

Education needs to be personalized. Josh Gray, Class of 2013, found a rigidity in our educational system that he wished were not there. Coming from Josh, that is a strong statement as he sought out one of our district’s vocational pathways (in which he thrived) and finished his high school career in a paid School- To- Work internship in mechanical engineering. He remarks, “I wish we, (the
Josh Gray
school as well as the students) had more of a focus on roundness….by that I mean being more capable in a variety of areas instead of extreme focus in one area.  I had to learn skilled trades such as plumbing, welding, machining, etc, in addition to what I knew already about engine theory, in order to be as useful as others, most 10-15 years older than I. Allow kids to seek a pathway they choose and enjoy...a self led education but with the addition of curricula that helps them be competitive and well rounded.” Josh also references growth mindset and communication skills as a key factor in his high school education. “A huge part of my success career wise has been my ability to communicate and remain fluid in capability.”

Adulting is hard. Shella Moss, Class of 2014, experienced the difficult reality that you just have to figure out so much on your own. For her, personal finance was most challenging. “I honestly wish that there would have been a class or project to help you manage money. School debt, credit cards, car loans. How much to put into savings how much you should
Shella Moss
spend on groceries, how to coupon to save the most of your money, etc.! I have learned all this with time and have used online resources  to guide me in the right direction.” Shella is not the first student to make this remark, and in response to this feedback, we have recently added a Personal Finance course for seniors and it has been very well received.

My takeaways from these student comments are very much that they seem to point towards a skill set that combines the best of all worlds. We need to strive towards a future where content fluency is balanced with flexibility. We need to continue to equip students with the communication skills and approach to challenging situations that will allow them to navigate them well and succeed. Last, we need to do everything we can to help students realize that high school is a “practice run” for adult life, but it is, at best, a poor simulation of reality.

In the end, though, Mason advises that it will work out for the person who approaches the workforce with the right mindset. “As far as careers go, all I can say is DON'T PANIC. Employers expect a learning curve for entry level positions.”

Being ready may, in fact, be a relative term. College and career readiness may, in truth, be a paradox. There may be no such thing as ever being truly ready. But alas, it will come. When it does, we hope that the skills we work on in high school are the right ones for the workforce of the future.

1 comment:

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