This time of year, as college acceptances roll in, it is common practice for high schools to celebrate the success and good news students receive. Many schools create a wall with banners or signs representing the four-year colleges marked with the names of the students who will attend. Some schools choose to spotlight those students who will continue their athletic pursuits at a college or university by hosting a college signing day or ceremony with families and local press in attendance. It makes sense to showcase these accomplishments as they are the culmination of students’ hard work and perseverance over their educational careers.
Postsecondary success, however, is not limited to attending a four-year college or university. By only celebrating those students attending four-year colleges or institutions, these celebrations often exclude the full range of positive postsecondary plans that students work hard to earn.
College and career counselors should consider finding ways to expand the range of postsecondary pathways that are celebrated during this time of year. And they should include the broader community in these celebrations as doing so can inspire other students and educators and serve as a powerful catalyst to fuel a college and career readiness culture throughout a K-12 school system.
Expanding Who And What Is Celebrated
There has been a heightened acknowledgement of the value of trade schools, junior colleges, military options, and straight-to-career pathways over the past several years, and schools and districts have put a great deal of attention and resources into ensuring that students consider these options. However, students gaining acceptance or committing to these paths are rarely celebrated or congratulated in the same way as those going to four-year colleges. Counselors should consider including and finding additional ways to celebrate a broader swath of students and accomplishments. These include:
Students going to trade schools and junior colleges: These paths are smart financial choices for many students. And, students attending these training programs work to fill important economic needs for local businesses.
Students who have committed to serving their community or country: Some high school students go directly to police or fire academies or enter military service. School communities should honor their choice of service in their celebrations of graduating seniors.
Students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs): High school students who have IEPs often spend considerable time and effort developing important work-based skills to support their transition from high school. A tremendous amount of work goes into formulating these transition plans, and these efforts should be included in celebrations of success.
In short, in order to build an authentic career and college readiness culture, it is necessary for high schools to expand the definition of success and recenter the focus of celebrations on students who have found a good match for postsecondary paths that will lead them to productive and fulfilling careers. It is also important during this time of year to pay attention to students who did not get into the school or program of their choice or who are yet to make tangible plans for the future. Schools should consider outreach and support for these students to identify the next best steps as graduation approaches.
Celebrating With The Entire Community
Beyond re-examining which students and which postsecondary planning accomplishments are celebrated, schools can also expand how they celebrate student plans for after high school graduation. These celebrations can be a significant source of momentum for developing a college and career readiness culture across the K-12 student population when they are viewed as inspiration and pride for the entire community, rather than just the individual students.
- To extend celebrations to the broader community, high schools might have their graduating seniors parade through the elementary and middle schools where those students attended. Teachers can high five their former students, and younger students can see the path to success of students that were once sitting right where they are.
- To acknowledge educators and mentors who have helped along the way, schools might have seniors write letters to a teacher or coach who had a big impact on their journey.
- Schools might invite seniors to speak at student or community events and share their future plans. This is a great way to showcase a diversity of student paths – those that will head to college, trade school, the military, or straight to careers. These students might talk about their school experience, what helped them to be successful, and other lessons they learned along the way.
- Schools might also include alumni from the high school who are attending or have attended the same institutions or programs in their celebrations of students. These connections provide a forward-looking view of the experiences that are ahead. To maintain a directory of contact information for future years, encourage seniors to share an email address or phone number.
Using Celebrations To Fuel A College And Career Readiness Culture
A primary goal of K-12 schools is to prepare students for success beyond graduation. Considering ways to expand celebrations to include broader definitions of success can be a meaningful way to ensure that students are finding the right fit beyond high school. And bringing the entire community into the celebration can have far-reaching impacts on building a college and career readiness culture in a district.
When younger students are aware of older students’ success, it inspires them to dream and plan for their futures. When student accomplishments are framed as resulting from the work of the entire school community, the efforts of counselors, teachers, administrators, coaches, and parents are also valued and celebrated. All of this works to foster a sense of commitment and momentum from the entire community to continue supporting students as they work towards postsecondary goals.
Celebrating every postsecondary path starts with giving students opportunities to explore and plan for every postsecondary path. SchooLinks gives districts and students access to resources and tools to help every student succeed. Check out how we can help your district.