There you are. It’s June and you’re sitting at a graduation watching a former student from your program dressed in cap and gown ready to cross a stage into the future. Imagine, for a moment, all the people that went into ensuring those students cross that stage? An innumerable amount of hours went into looking at transcripts, meeting with students, and talking to parents. But what can expanded learning programs do to improve college access for their students?
Here’s something to consider: what really happens to your students when they leave your program, high school, and into college? Do you know how many of your students actually go to college? Do you know how many of your students were accepted into a college but decided not to attend? Do you know why they decided not to attend college? School systems invest so many resources in making sure students are able to get into college, but few are tracking what happens after graduation. Here are some ideas on how your program can help get more of your students into, and through, college.
START KEEPING TRACK OF YOUR ALUMNI
It sounds simple, and it is, but keep in touch with your graduating students. The greatest strength a program can capitalize on is in leveraging the relationships that are formed in your program. It is here, where expanded learning programs excel and the core day struggles. Your students voluntarily come to your program and your staff builds connections, mentors, and coaches them in the most meaningful way possible. Use this gift to record the stories of your students. Listen, as they will tell you all the highs and lows of what they are experiencing.
As you’re documenting the stories of your alumni, share this information with your administration and counselors to help them develop a context of what your students are experiencing. They may have resources or access to information that will help your students. You don’t need to become a college advisor, but you should be able to ask the right questions. The best way to advocate for your students is to become informed of some transactional components to getting into and through college. Ask about due dates for completing the FASFA or the CalGrant (March 2nd). Check in with your students over the summer. Ask them about orientation dates, if they’re registered for classes or if they have any questions about the institution they will be attending. Help them find answers. Often times it’s a simple matter of knowing who to ask, so scour through the institution’s website and help decipher who to call or email.
GET INFORMED – THEN INFORM OTHERS
Sometimes the best way we can help our students it by becoming informed. Work closely with the counselors on your campus to help them disseminate any information that is relevant. Students have a tendency to tune out voices that they feel are not relevant to their lives. Since you have the social capital built up, they’re more likely to listen to you. Now comes the time to figure out how you’re going to disseminate this information.
Most schools have a “FASFA Night” where parents get together to watch a boring powerpoint about what students need to do to complete the FASFA. Try this: ask your students what would make this event more meaningful and then do your absolute best to re-imagine that experience. What do you do when you find yourself in a hole? Stop digging. Similarly, whatever is not working in your traditional FASFA Night, scrap it and try something new. For example, it may help to provide food for families who attend, partner with a local restaurant to donate food for dinner. This can be said of any convening you intend to have with parents or students. Engagement comes from being an active participant. How are parents and students going to participate in the experience? We know one thing, the “sit and listen” approach doesn’t work.
COMMIT TO GETTING BETTER AT GETTING BETTER
Everyone in California’s expanded learning community should know about the Continuous Quality Improvement Cycle. Part of this CDE requirement is that every site must be engaged in a data-driven continuous cycle to improve some aspect of the Quality Standards. Unfortunately, what we tend to see in this arena are half-baked communities of practice (CoPs) or professional learning communities (PLCs) that have ambiguous outcomes. Little to no substance comes from these convenings because of two primary factors: 1) participants aren’t asked to bring data to use to make decisions and 2) participants rarely walk out of these convenings with a clear sense of what outcomes they are looking for and what variable drive those outcomes. Enter Improvement Science and the Continuous Improvement model.
You may be familiar with the Carnegie Foundation and their push towards using networked improvement communities to get better at getting better. If you’re not, check them out here. The main distinction between PLCs, CoPs, and Networked Improvement Communities is that improvement communities are centered around using relevant data to determine outcomes. Improvement communities get granular with data to determine what variables impact specific outcomes. Asking yourself a simple set of questions will put you on the right path.
Ask these questions to move away from ambiguity and towards better understanding what influences outcomes:
- What outcomes are we looking for?
- How will you know that you’ve reached your desired outcomes?
- What information (data) can you look at that best shows what is influencing the outcomes you’re looking for?
- What other information (data) would show what is influencing outcomes? Can that information become accessible?
The expanded learning community will continue to play a major role in education for our young people. Partnerships between the core day and expanded learning will continue to be integral but so will partnerships with other community organizations and institutions of higher education. The more we work outside our silos and capitalize on each other’s strengths – our students will reap the benefits. None of these concepts are new. You’re likely to be doing some, if not all, of the ideas I’ve presented. The difference lies in your intentionality. Encourage your program, school, organization to become more thoughtful about how you build relationships with students, how you maintain those relationships and keep in touch with those students. Become informed with the best ways to support your students, then share what you learned with your students and community by re-imagining those experiences. Finally, get better at getting better. Use relevant data to make meaningful decisions to best support your students. Evaluate yourself, then do it again.
For breakfast, I had a vanilla-jasmine tea with coconut oil.