Career coaches in high schools play a significantly different role than their school counselor colleagues. School counselors are focused primarily on graduation. It is by sheer necessity that less focus is placed upon postsecondary education and career planning—this is a capacity and time issue. The career coaches assist those students who may have the capacity for further education and training but who may not feel that they have the skills to succeed in college.
In the seven pilot colleges in the Rural Virginia Horseshoe Initiative, part-time career coaches have been converted to full-time positions. When we talk about the difference between a part-time coach and a full-time coach, three points are emphasized:
1. Summer melt describes the phenomenon when a high school student signals their interest in attending college, perhaps fills out an application, graduates but then does not enter their intended college or program. The full-time coaches combat this through activities such as requiring attendance at college-sponsored orientations and maintaining contact with the student throughout the summer. Students may even sign-up for their fall classes while still in high school, thus increasing the odds that they will transition to college.
2. Another key focus of the full-time career coach is to foster greater parental involvement. Career coaches acknowledge parents as significant partners in the process of transitioning students to college. Coaches understand that this can be overwhelming for families whose parents attended college; for first-generation families, the process is often a show stopper. So coaches share information and offer assistance to parents throughout the student’s high school career and until successful transition to college is made.
3. A third focus of the full-time career coach is engagement in hands-on or experiential learning. This goes beyond career assessment in helping students explore careers and programs of study. A group of students may tour a local advanced manufacturing facility or hospital. Activities may also include job shadowing, informational interviews, or internships.
Kathy Kleppin, the career coach at Pulaski High School, says, “I’m finding that students just need to hear that yes, they can go to college, and going to college does not need to be a four year commitment. Everyone’s journey is different and the important thing is finding the one that’s a right fit for you. Regarding the future, one size does not fit all.”
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