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Front Line Staff / Program Design, Development, and Quality / Staff Leadership and Management

Pomp and Circumstance: Engaging Seniors Before Graduation


For many high schools, spring break is here.

Or, at least, right around the corner.

When students return to the classrooms, extracurricular activities, and their afterschool programs, thoughts may turn to planning lazy summer days with no responsibilities, homework, or teachers! This is especially challenging for the 2014 graduating class, which is extremely susceptible to senioritis this time of year.

What kind of “medicine” can be provided to reduce the effects of this seemingly contagious disease that affects one quarter of the high school population this time of year and how can out-of-school time programs and staff work to continue to engage seniors while preparing them for their future?

Although seniors all have different goals and aspirations, for simplicity, let’s put them into three categories and think about how to make the most of these last few days of high school for them:

The Overachievers

These seniors are going to work down to the last minute of their high school careers. They want to maintain that 4.0 to continue to prove to their college of choice that they are the best. Most likely, these students applied and gained admission to college over a year ago or have made other post-secondary plans months ago. These outstanding students probably have one or two more concert performances to prepare for or a final athletic competition in which to participate.

How can the overachievers be supported these last few weeks of school?

Despite their success, these students need to slow down and smell the roses. If these students are involved in afterschool extracurricular activities, the adults who lead those activities, whether they are coaches, mentors, or instructors, can help these students reflect on what their high school experience has been like and encourage them to appreciate the moment. They can also help prepare them for the next step in their journey. Have open and frank conversations about what life in college is like.

Although they have been a success in high school, they may face new challenges and struggles in post-secondary life. If the adults in these students’ lives have been successful, then they have built relationships with these students. Offer to continue to mentor them during this next phase of their life. And, remember to send them an e-mail at the end of summer or beginning of fall to wish them luck and let them know that someone is thinking of them.

Although they may not realize it, their lives are about to change forever. As educators, we need to provide support to them as they transition to this next phase of their lives.

The Middle

This group of students is composed of the students who maybe have coasted through high school. They’ve managed fine, but maybe haven’t always put their best effort forward. These students don’t cause trouble, but they are the ones counting the hours until Senior Skip Day. Some have plans for after high school while others have decided to figure it out over the summer.

How can the middle be supported these last few weeks of school?

Similar to the overachievers, the middle students need to be educated on life after high school. Although they may have had “college readiness” courses or lectures, it may not start sinking in on what that means until it becomes a reality.

Continue to support this group to come to school or the OST program and be involved in a variety of activities.

Again, try to ensure that the students have one mentor they may be able to return to, if they face challenges in the future. Encourage former students to come back to school so they can hear from the “experts” about what life after high school is like from someone they may consider more like a peer than the teacher who has been lecturing them for the past few months. Get their contact information to send them a note at the end of summer to say you are thinking about them and wishing them well.

Those Who Struggle

And, finally, the group who only marginally got by in high school. This could be for a variety of reasons. Although you may be trying to attract this group to the afterschool program, attendance has only been mediocre, and as the school year progresses, numbers continue to decline. For some of these students, thinking about life after high school may not be a concern yet. They may already have a job that they plan on continuing to do. Or, they may have plans for further education, but you are concerned that they will not make it. You have struggled to reach this group for the last four years so what can be done during the next few weeks?

How can those who struggle be supported these last few weeks of school?

Make sure these students know all their options—what entry-level jobs are available for high school graduates? What career or technical training is available to them? Continue to provide education classes on financial literacy so they understand what it will take to make it on their own. And, like with the other groups, reach out to them so they understand that there are adults who care about them and want them to succeed beyond the walls of high school.

Throwing of the Caps!

Regardless of what “role” students filled in high school, this is a very exciting time for seniors. Although they may not realize it, their lives are about to change forever. As educators, we need to provide support to them as they transition to this next phase of their lives. If you have been lucky enough to form a positive relationship with them, whether it is as a teacher, coach, mentor, or in some other capacity, let them know that the relationship does not end when that final bell goes off, but you would be happy to provide support as they move on in their lives.

Even if they don’t take you up on the offer, they can walk away from high school feeling as if someone truly cared, which may be all they need for the next step in their journey.

For those of you who work with high school students, my sincerest congratulations to your Class this year! Job well done!

My breakfast this morning was a delicious pancake with fresh strawberries, whipped cream, orange juice, and hot tea. Delicious!

Author Profile: @taradonahue

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