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Preparing High School Seniors for Life After Graduation

By Reyna Gobel

With the help of local colleges and universities, community groups, and national corporations, Grand Rapids Public Schools hosts college and career expos for high school seniors.

For many high school seniors, the idea of college is intriguing leads to lots of questions. What are college classes like? Am I prepared? How much is tuition, and what other expenses will I have? What if I can’t afford these costs on my own?

For the last three years, Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) has helped students answer these questions and many more through GradNation Community Summits held in the fall and spring. These daylong workshops, the most recent of which occurred in November, help students prepare for and get excited about going to college and entering the workforce.

We reached out to Maya Frazier, a GRPS counselor coordinator, to find out more about the GRPS GradNation Summits — what they entail, how colleges are involved and how they have changed over the years.

How is the summit set upHigh school seniors follow one of four tracks based on their post-graduation plans: attending a four-year college, attending a community college, undecided about postsecondary education, or entering the workforce, Fraizer explains. In each track, students can take three workshops with around 30 other students. Workshop topics include college scholarships and essays, finding money for college, college athletics, college life and job forecasts. Students meet with their counselors prior to attending the GradNation Summit to make decisions about career and education paths.

Seniors attend their first class period on the day of the GradNation Summit, and they wear T-shirts advertising the event. As all seniors leave in school buses to an off-campus event, younger students wonder what’s going on and anticipate their future special treatment.

How is the day marketed? Counselors go to senior English classes to tell students about the GradNation Summit, and they post flyers around campus. Marketing efforts are focused on awareness rather than attendance because all Grand Rapids high school seniors are required to attend.

What is the role of colleges? College representatives speak to students on a variety of topics, from preparing for college life to finances. Getting these representatives to attend is easy, says Frazier. “Our school counselors speak to local college representatives on a regular basis. Grand Rapids Community College is on campus every week, which has also impacted curriculum improvement at district high schools.”

What changes were made in the third year? A grant from the local youth organization Our Community’s Children required GRPS to add career development workshops to all tracks. At this fall’s event, industry experts from AT&T and Spectrum Health, among others, talked about the various jobs in their companies and fields.

Interested in pursuing a similar program at your college? Frazier offers the following tips for school counselors.

1. Include career development programming. While GRPS had to include career development workshops as a condition of the Our Community’s Children grant, the students loved the opportunity to make contacts at businesses that could employ them in the future.

2. Get off school grounds. Seniors attend the workshops on university, college or separate school district campuses. It feels more like an assembly than a workshop if it’s on campus.

3. Remember each student’s needs. Some students need college admissions help while others need employment contacts. Organize workshops that cater to as many post-graduation interests as possible.

Reyna Gobel

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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