high school students

Nov. 5, 2014

There was a recent article in my local newspaper titled: “Education Outpaces Opportunity.” The article stated that 47 percent of my county’s workforce has a bachelor’s degree or higher, but only 23 percent of the jobs in the area require college degrees. I’m always skeptical of statistics as they can be shaped to say a number of things, but I do believe that in smaller cities that are home to major universities, it probably isn’t unusual to have an abundance of college-educated people. How that translates to employment is probably complex.

The article, however, also said that our county had a shortage of welders, electricians, machinists, and other trades that don’t require a four-year degree. That is apparently a trend nationwide. In previous posts, I have heralded the opportunities at community colleges that offer certification in various trades at affordable costs. Choosing a two-year or less certification program through a community college offers students an economical way to become employable with a good salary in a short period of time. In addition, it provides a means to make and save money toward a four-year degree, if that is the ultimate goal.

What is the point here? In this rapidly changing world, students are bombarded with different messages: Make good grades in high school. Score high on standardized tests. Go to college. Learn a trade. Get a job. Save some money.

Which is the right path and what is the right message? There are, of course, no easy answers—and that is precisely the reason students need alternatives to the traditional path through school. It works well for some, but is disastrous for others. While standardized tests give some idea of a student’s academic knowledge, they do little to indicate if the student is willing, ready, and able to be successful in college, trade school, the workforce, the military, or just in making decisions about which path to take. Students need options, but most probably need assistance in finding those options.

This is what I think might help:
1. More access to alternatives to traditional high school.
2. Taking a year or two after high school to work and/or perform community service somewhere in the world.
3. Mandatory mentoring during those one or two years as to what the next choices are: four-year college, two-year trade/certification/degree, apprenticeships, military, or on-the-job training. More? And no, I don’t know how this mentoring would work—but I bet someone could figure it out.
4. Assistance—both financially and going through the process—to follow one of the paths.

I admit, I do not have a blueprint for any of these ideas—but from what I read and hear, they sound right. What do you think? What would help to give our individualized youths what they need to be successful in whatever path they eventually choose?

Oct. 21, 2014


In this venue and in the pages of Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able?, I have argued and tried to show that success in college involves much more than academic skill. One person I like to quote to substantiate my argument is Dr. David Conley of the University of Oregon. Dr. Conley is a leading researcher of college readiness and has authored many papers and books on the subject. I ran across an October 2013 interview with him by Project Information Literacy of the University of Washington. The interviewer asks what it means to be college ready in today’s world.


Heartening to me, Dr. Conley said that eligibility for college and readiness for college are not the same. He explained that eligibility means that the student has taken challenging high school courses and done well, and has done well on standardized and admissions testing. Readiness, however, “implies that the student’s preparation is well aligned with the full set of knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in postsecondary education. The emphasis here is on being able to succeed, not just on being admitted.”


As Toward College Success stresses, those skills necessary to succeed in postsecondary education also are skills needed to succeed in life. I simply call them life skills, and a young person needs to have the basics in life skills well honed when he or she leaves home after high school—for whatever is pursued. Without those skills, being admitted into college does not equal being successful in college.


Dr. Conley has construed a college readiness model that includes “12 components and 41 specific aspects that the college and career ready student needs to master to be fully ready.” They include cognitive strategies, content knowledge, learning skills and techniques, and transition knowledge and skills. Included within these are skills such as self-awareness, motivation, help-seeking, time management, and many others that are discussed in Toward College Success.


In the interview, Dr. Conley explains that testing, course selection, and grades are the components that easily convert into policy. The problem is that those components do not show the full capabilities or inadequacies of the student. Determining whether or not a student is truly “college and career ready” is more complex and much less easy to assess than a test—once again, this is a primary message in Toward College Success.


Dr. Conley also is asked about his insistence that teaching research skills is important for college success. He states that his research shows that most high school students are not assigned many research papers, and those that they are assigned are usually required to be several pages long. High school students are not learning how to investigate, analyze, hypothesize, and organize a shorter, accurate, concise well-written paper—the type of paper that is more often assigned in college. Then, unfortunately, once in college many of these students do not seek help with their writing because they do not has self-advocacy skills.


And on and on. I recommend reading the interview at http://projectinfolit.org/smart-talks/item/80-david-conley-deconstructing-college-readiness and looking for more of Dr. Conley’s work on the subject of college readiness. I also recommend reading Toward College Success!


Sept. 4, 2014

There is a website on which reporters post “want ads” for information on subjects they are researching. Today I saw one of those information requests for college preparation advice for high school freshmen. The ad specifically requested “advice on how to build good habits.” I translate that to advice on how to be successful in college and life beyond high school.

How convenient then that the updated, second edition of Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? has recently been released. It is, of course, full of just that kind of information. It is directed toward parents, however, because they are the ones that through guidance and the handing over of responsibilities give their teenagers those skills necessary for a successful college experience.

Although these skills have been discussed often in this forum, it is never too repetitive to make or update a list.

1. Your freshman should keep her own calendar. Include not only academic deadlines and dates, but have her note sport and extracurricular meeting dates, doctor appointments, and anything else she has going. You also should keep track of those dates because in the beginning she probably will miss a few. You can remind her, but eventually let her take over—and let her suffer the consequences of missing a deadline or an appointment.

2. In high school, many teenagers get involved in numerous activities: multiple sports, music, clubs, community service, a job. This is a good time to guide your teenager through priority management. Teenagers can become overwhelmed juggling too many activities on top of school work. Make it clear that academics come first. If school work starts to slide, then your teenager may need guidance in deciding which activities to let go. This can be hard for parents because the teenager may decide to give up something that mom or dad really want him to pursue—such as piano lessons or a particular sport that is near and dear to mom or dad’s heart. Remember that this is the teenager’s life and he needs to make the decisions.

3. If you haven’t already, this is a good time to put your teenager on a budget and teach her financial responsibility. Make a list of the items you will pay for and those for which the teenager is responsible. Do this whether the teenager’s money is an allowance, from work she does for you, or from an outside part-time job—and stick to the plan. This is a good time to show your teenager your household expenses and how you budget.

4. Provide opportunities for your teenager to improve his communication skills. During family gatherings or when friends are around, ask an adult to start conversations with your teen, asking about the teen’s activities, interests, or views. Teens need to learn to communicate face-to-face instead of relying on texting or social media outlets. Also encourage your teen to ask questions as that is a good way to start networking and building contacts.

That’s a good list to start. It will grow as your teenager ages and as you give out graduated responsibility. Keep reminding yourself that the goal is to help your teenager be ready, willing, and able for success in college and life beyond high school.

July 2, 21014

In a recent Education Today article by Donald E. Heller, the author wrote: “The decision to allow our daughter to become a high school dropout when she approached us with the idea was one that our family debated intensely during the last six months. In the end, we agreed with our daughter that this was the best path for her.”

Finding the best path toward success for your teenager is the primary mantra of Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? Yet, choosing to drop out of high school as the best path is tough even for me to follow. Heller, dean of the college of education at Michigan State University, said he and his wife, a public school teacher, did have a difficult time coming to agreement with their daughter. He described his daughter as quite articulate at explaining her reasons for wanting to find a different path to the future.

The Heller’s two daughters had attended a private school in London in their younger years, then an alternative public school in another state before moving to Michigan. The older daughter graduated from the alternative high school, but the younger was enrolled in a local public high school, which had a good reputation. The daughter scored well on state tests and on the SAT, but her school grades were not reflecting the depth of knowledge Heller knew she had. He and his wife noticed the daughter was “not engaged in learning in ways that she had been in other schools she had attended.”

The well-regarded Michigan high school was, like so many of our public schools, “highly traditional in its structure and curriculum,” focused on improving the “performance of students on the state tests rather than to encourage them to grow intellectually and to develop a breadth of learning.” Heller’s daughter realized, and he and his wife came to see, that the daughter was not being challenged or allowed to explore her curiosity, develop her interests, or learn for the sake of learning—something she had thrived upon at her previous schools. An intelligent student, she was not challenged and was slipping through the cracks.

After reviewing the options, the family decided to let the daughter apply to an early college program, 600 miles from home. Heller acknowledges that public schools are under extreme pressure to prove their students’ ability to meet state and federal standards. That focus, however, results in a one-size-fits-all approach to education that simply doesn’t work for many students. Although she will not experience the traditions of a high school graduation, Heller’s daughter will have a college education. Many other students who don’t respond to standard curriculums are not so lucky.

I encouraged one of my sons to finish high school early because he already had all the requirements he needed, and I knew he was bored and headed for trouble. It was a good plan for him. I have a friend who let her daughter drop out, get a GED, and proceed straight to community college—the young women also recognized the “standard” wasn’t working for her.

The Toward College Success mantra, “help your teenager find the path to success,” still stands. It can be scary figuring out the way, but until there are enough alternatives to the standard curriculum, parents need to remain alert and open to helping their teenager find that path.

To read Heller’s article: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/06/27/36heller.h33.html?cmp=SOC-SHR-TW

June 5, 2014

It appears that a couple or so years ago, a new concept in teaching high school students about finances took hold. Now in several high schools across the country, students, their parents, and their teachers can walk down the school’s hall to a student-staffed bank branch to make a deposit, a withdraw, or even to get a small low-interest loan. What an idea—teach students about finances by opening a real bank in their school. Understanding finances and how to manage them is a must for success in college or anything beyond high school.

There is a whole chapter in Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? that touts the importance of teaching teenagers how to manage money. Unfortunately, it is a skill that students often lack when they graduate from high school. When those students find themselves on their own, whether at college, traveling, working, or whatever, they discover quickly how little they know about finances and how easily money problems can derail their situation.

The concept of a student-run bank branch sounds like an innovative, engaging way to instruct teenagers in finances. Students apply to staff the school banks, are trained by the bank, and earn a salary. They, in turn, help to teach their fellow students about savings, budgeting, interest, and other aspects of financial management.

For example, Capitol One Bank, which has school branches in New York, New Jersey and Maryland, says each of its student bankers works a summer in a Capitol One Bank as tellers and customer service representatives, spend two weeks in formal teller training, take a financial education class, and participates in a week-long college development program to plan their college application process. One of the goals of Capitol One Bank’s school banking program is to steer students toward a successful college experience.

Union Bank, which operates school banks primarily in low-income neighborhoods in California, offers a similar program, including college scholarship monies. One complaint about the programs is that students have no choice of banks if they want to use the school site. Individual banks work with school districts to gain access, and use bank funds to build the banking space and pay for student training and salaries. That seems a minor complaint when it offers so much opportunity to the student bankers as well as their peers.

It would seem that the school bank program is an appealing way to engage students in learning about real-life finances. If they can graduate with reasonable financial literacy, then those teenagers have a better chance of being successful in college and beyond.

To read articles about school banking programs: http://www.npr.org/2014/06/04/318489887/as-banks-open-in-schools-a-chance-for-students-to-learn-to-save, and http://wavenewspapers.com/business/article_c1ea2f78-d7c6-11e3-af6a-0017a43b2370.html.

May 21, 2014

It is graduation time again, and that means smiling families, lots of photos, parties, and questions about the future. Once the celebrating dies down, college-bound students look forward to the last summer before leaving home, while the non-college bound usually jump right into “freedom” and life on their own. Whatever lies ahead, this is a good time for students to consider what they might encounter and, as hard as it might be to admit, what guidance they still may need in order to be successful in school or life.

Finances: Many students encounter their largest learning curve with budgeting, paying bills, and generally managing money—issues that can derail college students as well as those out on their own. Fresh graduates moving into apartments or housing other than dorms will be responsible for getting utilities and garbage pickup set up in their name, as well as signing a lease. Before moving in, figure out if gas, electric, and water are all on one bill or through separate companies, and find out what are reasonable rates so that any spikes in usage can be questioned. Read a lease and understand what it says before signing, and be prepared to pay first and last month’s rent and a damage deposit up front.

Open a bank account and fully understand how it works. Ask about fees, checks, debit cards, and credit cards, and how each work. Pay particular attention to the dangers of credit cards.

Most importantly, make a budget and stick to it. Ask parents for help or look online, but make a realistic budget, pay bills on time, and figure out how to have fun on the cheap.

Be prepared: The summer after high school graduation is often a carefree time spent with friends before heading in various directions for college, gap year programs, certification programs, military, or work. While having the last hooray is important, it is the wise student who is prepared for what is to come. If going to college, research some important deadlines before you start: final drop/add dates, tuition and fee deadlines, and financial aid deadlines. Get into the habit of reading email on a daily basis, as colleges send important messages about deadlines and requirements. Attend orientation to learn more about those deadlines, locate important campus offices and buildings, meet your advisor, and map out the closest coffee shop.

The summer after graduation also is the time to create or update a resume, particularly for job seekers. Contact people who are willing to be references and have their information available before applying for a job.

Be realistic: Leaving home for the first time can be a heady experience, but most students encounter emotions and situations that they were not expecting. Students are surprised when they are hit with a wave of homesickness, are lost when a roommate relationship turns sour, are shaken when they get a D on paper or exam, and can be overwhelmed with the party scene. When loneliness, anger, frustration, fear, or bewilderment rise up, it is okay to contact mom and dad, or school counselors for guidance and encouragement. It’s all part of the process of being successful in college and life after high school.

March 21, 2014

While giving a presentation a few weeks ago to a local school, I was introduced to a fine program offered by Colorado State University. The Dream Project is a “student-initiated, student-run high school outreach program that focuses on peer-to-peer mentorship.” CSU students give their time and energy to helping first generation and low-income high school students figure out the right-fit college, maneuver the college application process, and successfully make it to higher education.

After I had finished my presentation, a group of energetic CSU Dream Project members explained the program and encouraged high school students to contact them if they had questions. Their enthusiasm and eagerness to help was inspiring, and the Dream Project appears to be a great resource for local high school students.

In its second year, CSU’s Dream Project is closely modeled on the University of Washington’s program, embracing the same mission, values, goals, and name as UW’s Dream Project. CSU’s Dream Project not only offers high school students college application assistance that they may not have at home, but it teaches “CSU students about educational opportunity and social mobility and examines these ideas in the context of Colorado State University.” CSU Dream Project students attend a class that meets twice a week—“once as an entire class as part of the CSU course and once with their smaller group at their assigned high school to work with the students. Since the Dream Project is a CSU course as well as an outreach program, participating students can receive up to two credits per quarter.”

In Fort Collins, Dream Project members have a presence at two area high schools, but they encourage students from any high school to contact them. They begin working with students in the junior year to point them toward courses they should take, encourage them to get involved in community service, research colleges, prepare for the SAT and/or ACT, and help them start scholarship searches. In the senior year, Project members help students through the application process, including getting letters of recommendation, writing entrance essays, and filling out financial aid forms. In addition, Project members will take high school students around the CSU campus to give them a feel for college life, and they hold social events to build community.

Because the CSU Dream Project is relatively new, it is still building its program, but one goal is to offer scholarships in the future. UW’s Dream Project offers small scholarships from monies raised entirely by UW students.

The Dream Project model appears to be a win-win program for both high school and college students. So far, the model has been adopted only by CSU and Rutgers University—I do hope other universities will join in to promote this program of students helping students.

To read more about CSU’s Dream Project, go to: http://accesscenter.colostate.edu/dream

For UW’s, go to:  http://www.washington.edu/dreamproject/about/

Dec. 4, 2013

Although Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? is about preparing your teenager for a successful college experience, one of the significant points in the book is that going to college right after high school is not the right path for every student.  That point becomes clearer to me every time I read or hear a story like the one that was aired on NPR last week. The story, by Rob Manning, told about an internship program in Oregon that recruits and trains teenagers straight out of high school to be machinists, welders, and painters.

Oregon students find out about the industrial internship program in shop class—a class that is not offered in all high schools due to budget cuts. But Centennial High School in Gresham, Oregon—just east of Portland—does offer shop classes through its “Metals Manufacturing Program of Study.”  And according to teacher Mark Watt, “students line up to get in.”

Watts went on to say: “I’ve never heard a kid ever say to me, I love coming to school because I can’t wait to come to English. Now, that’s not a slam on English or math because it’s important, but this is the carrot.”

And the carrot has a great reward for students who simply don’t want more studying right after high school, but a job with real earning potential. The internship gives them the training while they are in high school, with the likelihood of a good paying job right after graduation. The NPR story highlighted a few students who were working in the shipyards of North Portland—jobs they secured after completing industrial internships that they heard about in shop class at Centennial. One 18-year-old Centennial graduate came back to promote the internship program to current shop class students. He told them he was making $800 a week in the shipyards.

The story did point out that the industrial internship program needs more manufacturers to participate, but the fact that such a program exists is a great boon to Oregon teens. Students need options because one size does not fit all. College isn’t the right step for some students, and those students need and deserve opportunities for jobs that offer living wages and productive lifestyles. I highly commend Centennial High School for offering such an option to its students. Most schools are so focused on college readiness and are so hindered by budget cuts that they eliminate programs and classes that can lead to worthy vocations.

In fact, I think that while our country is striving for national academic standards through Common Core, it also needs to emphasize and offer skills that give a student immediate opportunity for vocational work. I believe a system that allowed students to choose between a college or vocational track would be valuable. Choosing the vocational track would still include basics in English, math, and science—not necessarily to what is needed for college-level work, but enough that if the vocational student decided years later that he or she wanted to go to college, they could pick up what they needed in a community college and go from there.

Another significant point made in Toward College Success is that parents should help their student toward success in whatever path the student chooses. It may be your dream that your teenager go straight to college, but if that isn’t what he wants, it truly is a waste of time and money. If a vocational path is more attractive to your teen, help her find ways to achieve that.

To listen to or read the transcript of the NPR story, go to: http://www.npr.org/2013/11/29/247825777/from-shop-class-to-shipyard-oregons-plan-for-industrial-interns?sc=tw&cc=share

Nov. 22, 2013

With Thanksgiving just next week, I thought it would be a good time to talk about giving back—in the form of community service—and the benefits it bestows on students. Most high school students know that college applications have a place to list volunteer efforts, and that if that spot is left blank, it is glaring indeed.

Volunteering, however, benefits students in many other ways. For example, through lending a hand, students may discover an interest that could lead to a college major or career path. A student who reads to first graders may decide he’d like to become a teacher. Volunteering at a homeless shelter may spark an interest in social work. Guiding seniors through confusing technology might spur an interest in software engineering. In addition, meeting people in charge of the organization or school where he volunteers, gives the student the opportunity to network—meeting people that may open doors for him later.

Other benefits of volunteering with an organization or group is that the student will learn from leaders, grow her team working or leadership skills, and be mentored in effective work practices. For those teenagers with little work experience, volunteering gains them skills that are needed in the job market and builds their resumes. Employers and colleges give high credit for volunteerism—in fact, as high school seniors know, colleges want to see community service on a student’s application. Volunteering indicates a young person has branched out, is moving beyond self, and is willing to work—all helpful traits in college, the workplace, and the world.

A twist on volunteering benefits is that it appears to be good for a student’s health. Research from Hannah Schreier of New York University, Kimberly Schonert-Reichl of the University of British Columbia, and Edith Chen of Northwestern found that teenagers who volunteered over the course of a school semester finished that semester healthier than their classmates who did not perform community service. The volunteering students had “lower body mass indexes, better cholesterol levels, fewer inflammatory markers, and were less negative, more altruistic, and empathetic than their peers.”

The earlier students embrace volunteering, the more “experience” they will have to include on their resume and the more it becomes part of “just what you do.” To find opportunities to volunteer, students can look to school-sponsored events, school-club projects, places of worship, city or county websites, and non-profit organizations. Volunteering is an opportunity for a student to give back to the community. Hopefully his service will gain him perspective on his own circumstances in relation to others, and leave him feeling fulfilled and gratified at his service efforts, and grow his skills that will lead to success in college and beyond.

To read more about the health benefits of volunteering, go to: http://www.psmag.com/blogs/news-blog/help-others-to-help-yourself-high-school-students-benefit-from-mandatory-volunteer-work-54698/

Oct. 29, 2013

One of my biggest concerns has come up again in “education” news—that of the dismal writing skills of far too many students. Matthew Lynch recently wrote in his Education Week blog that a recent study by Michigan State Professor Gary Troia found that “K-12 writing standards are stagnant from a decade ago, along with student writing achievement.” Troia goes on to say that “nearly 25 percent of K-12 students in the United States are not performing at a proficient writing level.”

As I have written before, in his extensive research on college readiness, David Conley of the University of Oregon professor and Director of the Center for Educational Policy Research has found that proficient writing is the most important academic skill for success in college. I also have written that writing skills are critical communication skills, and that no matter what job or career a young person chooses, being able to write clear, well-organized, concise papers, emails, task orders, proposals, reviews, critiques, and even notes shows that the employee is professional, pays attention to detail, and strives for quality.

I also have written that too often middle and high school teachers skimp on writing assignments because they require so much time to grade, followed by corrections, rewriting, and re-grading. Yet, it is precisely during these years that students need to develop their writing skills.

Lynch made some good suggestions to improve writing proficiency in K-12.

·         Teach keyboarding earlier than third grade, as is the current standard. Lynch points out, correctly, that kids are savvy keyboard operators as soon as they are introduced. A recent National Public Radio story discussed how quickly toddlers under age two learn to operate a touch screen on Mom’s phone or tablet. Lynch goes on to say that as young students learn keyboarding, they also learn spelling, reading, composition, phonics, and improve memory skills.

·         Writing should be an interdisciplinary focus. There is reading material on every subject, so it follows that every subject should include some writing—and be graded on the proficiency of the writing as well as the subject matter. Lynch writes: “Writing is a must-have skill in the global economy and one that will be needed in some capacity for every career. We can’t let students off the hook if writing is simply not their strong suit. Writing is a skill that anyone can master with enough practice and its practical applications need to be emphasized in every subject area.”

·         Lynch’s last point echoes Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able?: “College is not the place where students should receive remedial help on their writing.” Professors assign papers assuming students already have the skills to research, compose, edit, and meet assignment deadlines. Students without those skills will indeed struggle in college. Lynch challenges K-12 to put writing on the “pedestal it deserves. It is the foundation of K-12 academic success and workplace achievement. If we put writing on the back burner, it has the potential to damage every other subject area and hold our students back from their true achievement in school and life beyond the K-12 and college years.”

Well said. Writing skills are essential to college success. To read Lynch’s article, go to: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/education_futures/2013/10/improving_k-12_writing_standards_what_will_it_take.html?cmp=SOC-SHR-TW