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The following session, College Planning In a Remote Year: Students and Educators Share Their Journey was recorded live at the National Conference on Education, Thursday February 18th, 2021 with moderator, Nick Sproull Director of K-12 Educator Engagement at myOptions, Ms. Heidi Sipe, Superintendent of Umatilla School District in Umatilla, Oregon; Dr. David Schuler, Superintendent of High School District 214 in Schaumburg Illinois, and Seniors at Umatilla HS Kyleigh Betts, and Alexa Castanon.

Heidi Sipe (Superintendent, Umatilla): That way that I get to have them in my ear telling me what I’m missing as a Supe, because I don’t know about all of you, but I didn’t go into this work to sit-in meetings with suits all day. So they are the way that I stay as young as I can. If it weren’t for them and the many Pop Tarts socials that we get to have together, I would die on the vine. I’ll turn it over to Nick officially, but I wanted to make sure I introduced both Kyleigh and Alexa and gave you a little bit of background as we dive into today.

Nick Sproull (myOptions): I am thrilled that they are able to join. I wish I could show you all the frantic emails we’ve all been exchanging over the last hour, trying to help get them connected, so thank you both, so much. My name is Nick Sproull and it’s my pleasure to welcome you to this special session, titled College Planning and Covid, where students are sharing how they need us now more than ever.

As you may have figured out by now, I’m not Bryan Contreras, who some of you may know and may have expected to see today. Bryan and his family live in Houston and have had inconsistent power due to the weather in Texas. So I’ll do my best to play Bryan’s role today. Obviously, we recognize that several of you are dealing with your own weather related issues. Our thoughts are with you and your teams and obviously, your students and families as well.

As all things in education should be, today’s session is centered on our students who have joined us. We’re thrilled to welcome Ms. Heidi Sipe, the Superintendent of Umatilla School District in Oregon, and her two students as they share about how they’re managing the college planning process this year and the emerging needs that they’ve identified. And we’re also very happy to welcome Dr. David Schuler, the Superintendent of High School District 214 in Illinois and as some of you may know, the 2018 National Superintendent of the Year. He’ll frame his thoughts with us about how these emerging student needs fit into his redefining readiness initiative that he’s led and that you may be familiar with.

You know, we at myOptions couldn’t be prouder to continue our support of AASA as one of its largest strategic partners and to be sponsoring this session today. myOptions is growing and evolving – I’m new here as of three months ago, three and a half months ago, and thrilled to be with you all. We’re really working to find new and exciting ways to serve students and educators. I’ll add a couple of comments about the work we’re doing at the end of our session today, but as we kick things off, just please allow me to say that our mission at myOptions is really simple and really clear. It’s to help students and to remove obstacles and barriers for them as they’re going through their post-secondary planning process.

With that kind of as our launching point, let’s dive into the heart of why we’re gathered here today. I do think it’s important whenever we can to put some context around the discussion that we’re going to have about post-secondary planning, especially in this environment. So I want to focus on three recent research findings related to students’ experiences this year that I think are going to help set the stage for our discussion.

First of all, and this may be data that you’ve seen, we have data from the Common App. What they have shared with us is that while larger and more selective colleges and universities are having a pretty good year in terms of getting lots of applications, but the smaller and less selective colleges are not. I think what’s of particular note is that first gen students and those who may lack the money to pay for an application are not applying at the same rates as they used to. So here’s data point number one, according to the Common App:

  • The number of college applications from first gen students and those eligible for fee waivers were each down by 7% compared to the previous year, which represents thousands and thousands of our most vulnerable students who, for any number of reasons, may not be planning to attend college this fall.

The second new data, from our partners at EduVentures research, revealed that:

  • One in two students from the class of 2021 have expressed concern about their ability to communicate with their counselor and teachers.

So I’ll say that again because I think it’s worth repeating. One in two students, of the students that we surveyed, identified as having concerns about their ability to communicate with their counselor and their teachers right now. And finally:

  • 65% of at risk students reported having concerns about applying to college during the pandemic.

Among those who reported having concerns, the following were the reasons most commonly endorsed:

  1. Concerns about being able to manage their applications
  2. Wishing they could have visited a campus.
  3. And number three, and this one is the one that hits me the hardest, three is just having concerns about their grades and a remote & hybrid learning environment.

So that’s why we titled this session, and we included the phrase, “our students need us now more than ever.” With those data as context for our discussion, I’ll shift our attention to our panelists.

As I shared just a moment ago, today’s session is really centered around our students, despite the pandemic and the host of other challenges that we had today, we’re really happy to welcome the students and to hear a little bit about what it’s been like for them trying to plan for post-secondary this year. So, Kyleigh and Alexa, hi, and welcome to the National Conference on Education. We’re so glad to have you join us today!

I guess just to kick things off, why don’t we start by just having you introduce yourselves by telling us your name, maybe some of the clubs or activities that you’re involved with – obviously, we already heard about robotics – and then just for fun, tell us the best class you’ve taken in high school and why you think it’s been your best class. And then from there, we’ll launch into some other questions. I’ll call on Alexa first.

Alexa Castanon (Student): Hi everyone, my name is Alexa. Obviously, I go to Umatilla High and obviously, as you also know, I’m in robotics, but I also do tennis, NHS, is be, book club, and I think that’s it. I used to work for our after school STEM academy. Yeah, I also, sorry, but yeah I can’t even talk anymore. Anyway…

Nick Sproull (myOptions): You’re good. You’re good!

Alexa Castanon (Student): Yeah, that’s it!

Nick Sproull (myOptions): Kyleigh, how about you?

Kyleigh Betts (Student): Hi, I’m Kyleigh. Some of the other groups that I’ve been a part of, other than robotics, would be softball and NHS and bookclub. The best class I’ve taken, I would say would be robotics, just because of the amount of fun that’s incorporated into being part of robotics.

Nick Sproull (myOptions): Am I right that Ms. Sipe created the robotics club? Yeah? Yeah, that’s great.

Heidi Sipe (Superintendent, Umatilla): (laughing) I pay them to say that it’s the fun one.

Nick Sproull (myOptions): Well, again, thank you both for joining us. I want to launch into a couple of questions that I hope provide us all with insight into how life has been for you this year. And I guess let me just start by asking you this. Like, really, really broadly, how are you doing? How are your friends doing? How has this been you know, that we’ve almost been in this pandemic for a year now? Has it been smooth? Has it been difficult for you and your friends? A little bit of both? Just give us a sense of overall, how you’re managing things right now.

Alexa Castanon (Student): Okay, I’ll go first. For me, surprisingly, I think I’m actually doing good. I think that’s mostly because I’ve had more time to do things now, because our daily school schedule, it’s usually from like 9:15 to like around 11 or so. So that gives me the entire afternoon to work on things I need to work on. And since, you know, most of the clubs and sports and stuff are canceled, it gives me even more time. So in like a regular school year, like I wouldn’t have that time because, you know obviously, I’m doing all these activities. And then since I’m like diving into my work, it would stress me out a lot. So, you know, now that I finally have that time, I’m actually really good.

For my friends though, I think they’re doing okay. I think they also have that sort of like time thing too, but obviously, like emotionally and like you know mental health and such, maybe not so much. But, you know, we have been checking in with each other, you know, we’re like, “Hey, are you okay? How are you doing?” and stuff like that, yeah.

Nick Sproull (myOptions): How are you, how are you keeping in touch with one another?

Alexa Castanon (Student): Um, usually we both have Instagram, so we like to DM each other on there, like we like to send each other like memes and such so that we can, you know, cheer each other up.

Nick Sproull (myOptions): Kyleigh, how about you?

Kyleigh Betts (Student): Ummm, I would say educationally I’m doing pretty well, I have learned a lot about getting control when I need to get stuff done and just managing myself. But when it comes down to mentally, I would say that it’s not the best. I’ve struggled quite a bit. And my friends, I would say, were also struggling quite a bit just because we don’t have the social connection that school would allow us during the normal year. And it’s been tough.

Nick Sproull (myOptions): How, how have you tried to keep in touch with your friends?

Kyleigh Betts (Student): I have a really close friend who, we will spend weekends at each other’s houses and just stay in touch that way. Or driving to a cousin’s house and just pestering her.

Nick Sproull (myOptions): You know, the statistic that was read earlier, about one in two students saying that they’ve had difficulty communicating with their teachers and their counselors and staying in touch. When you heard that, did that resonate with you? Do you feel like you have also encountered some challenges with that? And I hope you’ll hope you’ll give us candid answers, even though your superintendent is here on the chat with us.

Alexa Castanon (Student): I’d say, not as much, because, you know, with our counselor, like her email is always available and her phone is always available. I have her phone number in my phone so, you know, I can text her or call her at any time that I need to. And, yeah, I think she’s there when I need her. And yeah, it didn’t really resonate with me that much.

Nick Sproull (myOptions): Okay!

Kyleigh Betts (Student): Getting in touch with teachers has always been a little bit of a difficulty, just because I’m not a very outgoing person to just reach out. So, this year definitely has been tough.

Nick Sproull (myOptions): Yeah, I understand. We hear that. And that’s what we continue to hear from all of the communities that we’ve been in touch with. You know, if we think a little bit about how the two of you have been thinking about your future, I think I’m struck by the fact that we’re in a conversation right now, thinking about the future when a lot of students are just trying to get through the present.

And so can you talk a little bit about that? How much time do you feel like you have even been able to devote to thinking about what life looks like for you after high school? Have you given it any thought? Or have you just been so consumed with getting through the present, that the things that happen in terms of going to college or going into a career are just not on your radar? Can you give us some insights there?

Alexa Castanon (Student): I think, as a senior, like we have to make that time to think about our futures and such. But, you know, like I said earlier, how we have that time now, like, I’ve actually been able to focus on that. So, yeah, I think so, I think the only thing that I would struggle with, like in terms of future and such, is how I’m going to be like financially. Because right now my family isn’t doing great in terms of finance. But, you know, like with the time I have finally able to plan things and such. But yeah.

Kyleigh Betts (Student): With all the time I have with my school schedule, college has been a very big thing. And the ultimate issue pressing down on me is which college to attend. I already have a set out plan of how I see my adult life. So, I just, the only issue right now is financial and which college.

Nick Sproull (myOptions): Yeah, I can certainly understand that, and this is that time of year when so many seniors, in ordinary years, are looking at their options and sorting through which direction they want to go. And looking at the financial pieces of things as you have both thought about your futures, have there been, obviously, the question about finances is an important one to you both. What are maybe some other obstacles or challenges you’ve had? Have you been able to talk with any college admissions officers? Have you been able to or have you had to visit campuses virtually? What kinds of things have you been doing to try to figure out what is next for you?

Alexa Castanon (Student): Personally, I haven’t really talked to anyone from different colleges and such. I have attended, like, application workshops. But like I said, I haven’t really talked to anyone from those colleges because of COVID. But, you know, I have been talking to my family members, trying to figure out “what if” scenarios and like, any solutions that we could come up with. But I think other than that, I’m okay. I think the only thing is that, you know, I was, like I said, finances and stuff. So I am kind of like relying on scholarships right now. And I think unfortunately, like, if I don’t really get those kinds of scholarships, I probably won’t be able to attend college.

Nick Sproull (myOptions): Okay. Kyleigh, how about you?

Kyleigh Betts (Student): The only real difficulty is, I haven’t really been able to talk to any of the admissions because, first of all, not reaching out. But finances are huge with difficulty, and also location and what courses the colleges have and what the courses look like have been huge in my decisions. And I personally haven’t seen any virtual tours but my older brother did, however, and he went to school this Fall and his was all virtual and it was very difficult and very much a struggle to do.

Nick Sproull (myOptions): Sure. I’d like to ask you both another follow-up question. And, Heidi, maybe I’ll ask you to chime in on this as well. Just as context for students in your district historically, what resources are you both using to try to find scholarship information? Are there local resources? Are you going to websites to try to find scholarships are available? And Ms. Sipe, I might ask you, what are your students relying on right now and how does that compare to what students may have been doing in previous years to find ways to pay for college? So let me start with the students from that perspective and then ask you to chime in as well.

Alexa Castanon (Student): So actually, our counseling center posts different scholarships and such on like our Google classroom. So you know, that we can check daily or weekly and can find out if we qualify for any of the scholarships,so that’s how I’ve been looking for those. But then I also have students who were in robotics tell me about these different scholarships in that way like “Hey you know I signed up for this one and I received this, so you should probably sign up for it too.”

Kyleigh Betts (Student): I’ve been using websites like the College Board and the OSAC just to try and find some good scholarships out there. And with the Google Classroom, it’s been helpful too.

Nick Sproull (myOptions): Can you share what OSAC is for the non-Oregonians in the room?

Kyleigh Betts (Student): It’s the Oregon Student Access & Commission.

Heidi Sipe (Superintendent, Umatilla):Oh, they got it!

Nick Sproull (myOptions): (laughing) Thanks for that! Heidi, how does that, what they just shared, how does that compare to maybe previous years?

Heidi Sipe (Superintendent, Umatilla): I’m thankful to hear this. We talked last night and I told them that they can say whatever was real, because this is the only way any of us can improve. But I had a lot of questions I wanted to ask them ahead of time, but I didn’t, because I wanted them to just be able to speak freely. And a couple of the things that we’ve really had high levels of success with previously have been our dual credit opportunities.

So 12% of our kids last year graduated with both their high school diploma and their Associates of Arts degrees concurrently. And we pay for all of that. We pay for the books, the credits, all of it. That’s really been one of our most successful pathways because a lot of our first generation kids don’t understand that they are college material unless they can experience that college success within the more supportive environment of the high school environment.

We haven’t played a lot with AP classes for that very reason, because AP isn’t something that a lot of families that are experiencing poverty understand. They get that it’s this thing, but they don’t understand what it is tangibly, but they get what colleges and so we can support college and we can pay for college, we can get a college diploma. They get that. That’s easily transferable. And that’s how we get a lot of our families to move forward into higher education.

We’ll also pay for career certification as well. And so, like those welding certs, low voltage electrical and all of that we’ll pay for in high school. And so one of the questions that I have for Alexa and Kyleigh is, are either of you continuing with any of your college classes during the pandemic or did you stop what you were taking? Alexa, you’re still taking yours? Ky?

Alexa Castanon (Student): Yeah, I’m only taking one so far this year since, you know, pandemic and all that stuff and I didn’t want to stress out too much, but I am still taking one.

Heidi Sipe (Superintendent, Umatilla): Good. But you were on the path to graduate with your full AAOT, weren’t you? As a sophomore, wasn’t that your plan? I shouldn’t assume fully.

Alexa Castanon (Student): I was like, kind of thinking it but then I kind of like changed plans around sophomore, junior year.

Heidi Sipe (Superintendent, Umatilla): Okay, okay. And Kyleigh, you weren’t planning on doing your full AAOT, but you were working on a few credits here and there. Is that right?

Kyleigh Betts (Student): Yeah, I already knew that I wasn’t going to get it because I came into the, I came in as my sophomore year, so I’m not going to have it.

Heidi Sipe (Superintendent, Umatilla): Yeah, so Kyleigh transferred in from California midway through. So that was where that came from. Now, Keith, when he went to a trade school this year – this Fall, her brother – has he continued on or did he stop going because it was remote?

Kyleigh Betts (Student): He’s in class, so he does have, he only has one online class. Other than that, he is in class.

Heidi Sipe (Superintendent, Umatilla): And still in Yakama or somewhere else?

Kyleigh Betts (Student): He’s down in Colima.

Heidi Sipe (Superintendent, Umatilla): Oh good! Okay, okay. So one of the things that we’ve noticed is fewer of our kids are taking as many college classes as they were. A lot of them are doing exactly what Alexa is doing. They’re taking a sprinkling of credits, but they’re not taking the full amount, which makes me nervous because if they don’t get that full AAOT, a lot of those credits get kind of lost in the transfer wind and they won’t end up being fully accepted by those different university systems and that becomes a bigger challenge. It’s not that it was worthless, it won’t be, and any learning is valuable learning, but that’s one of the things that we get more concerned about.

The Oregon Student Access Commission is really helpful, that OSAC opportunity, because it’s basically a big giant scholarship consortium. So students can fill out one application and it automatically applies them to a multitude of scholarships, and it saves them, and the scholarship – I don’t know what that would be called – the different people reviewing scholarships, it saves them a lot of time. So I’m thankful that the kids are using those. But a lot of the $200 and $300 local scholarships aren’t in that.

But the one thing that I’m concerned about is hearing Alexa, and Kyleigh, both – they absolutely are students that should be heading off to college, no matter what. Normally this is an opportunity where we would be having those pep talk conversations and in any normal year, we would be saying, “I understand that you’re concerned about your financial pathway, but let’s just figure this out. I see that you’re concerned about this, but there will be an option.” And we can’t have those conversations face to face right now and that’s one of the things that’s concerning me.

The other thing is, Alexa, usually you’re working after school right now, which is a big source of income. Is that fair for the after school program?

Alexa Castanon (Student): What do you mean by fair, in terms of?

Heidi Sipe (Superintendent, Umatilla): Is that a fair assumption to make, that it’s usually, that’s your main source of income?

Alexa Castanon (Student): Oh! Yeah, yeah.

Heidi Sipe (Superintendent, Umatilla): So we employ about 30 kids at a time through our after school program and that’s a big source of income for a lot of our high school students. We talk to them a lot about trying to use those funds to help them build up a nest egg to pay for college. And without there being those after school opportunities, that’s sort of like our own little scholarship fund to help kids, too – that’s not happening right now.

So everything you’re saying is pretty consistent with what we were expecting, but there’s still some really concerning parts in there for sure. So don’t give up hope, but we do still need to talk about that pathway.

Nick Sproull (myOptions): You’re both getting your own private session here with Ms. Sipe! Say, how great is that? And I think you probably have a bunch of superintendents from around the country who would be happy to cheer you on as well.

I do want to make sure that we carve out time for David to talk a little bit about the redefining ready network. But I want to do a couple of things here before we jump there. I want to ask the students one last question. And then because we have a small enough group here, I’d like to actually engage everyone on the call with a question.

So let me start with the students and say we’ll kind of make this a fun question, but it has a purpose to it. So let’s say that you graduate and you go off and have a really successful career and make lots and lots of money and you decide that you want to donate some money back to your high school, your school district. How would you want them to invest money in supporting students as they think about how they want to plan for their path after high school? Another way of thinking about this question would be like; How can your school better support students who come in the path after you?

Alexa Castanon (Student): This is going to sound biased, but I would totally fund robots, mostly because I was given opportunities and like resources and such to do things I wouldn’t normally do. I think last year was when we met Senator Merkley. Yeah, that was really fun. And then obviously, I got to travel all the way to Texas, sunny Texas at least. Yeah, like if I wasn’t in robotics, I definitely wouldn’t have had this opportunity. And those opportunities have helped me with scholarships and such. I can talk about all the things that it did. So that has definitely helped. Thank you.

Kyleigh Betts (Student): I’m biased, too, and I would say robotics is an opportunity that you don’t get at many schools. And it’s such an amazing program. And there’s so many scholarships that come with it. But also you get to meet people that aren’t just around your district, people who are around the country or the world. And it’s so amazing. And just fun. And it’s just another thing to do while you’re in high school.

Nick Sproull (myOptions): That’s fantastic, I have to tell you both that my son is a seventh grader in his first year of the robotics team this year, and it was interesting because our district is in a hybrid environment. And so I was able to show him a little bit of the clip of the documentary about your district’s robotics club. It’s a big deal. And should both be very proud of your involvement. It’s very cool. I want to do something. I hadn’t planned to do, which is I want to open this up for just a second to everybody here on the call.

And I want to shift our focus for just a moment to the high school juniors. Typically, this would be the time of year when a lot of counselors are trying to shift their focus toward that junior class and getting them prepared to be thinking about the college applications. Believe it or not, they’ll be submitting their applications in about eight months from now. In fact, just yesterday, Common App went ahead and released their essay questions for next year, seniors in advance to give them time to think about this.

So let me ask you all, what’s not happening right now with your current high school juniors that may be happening in an ordinary year based on the challenges that we’re all facing?

Audience Participant: I’ll tell them that you don’t college, certainly college visits, we have a great Alumni Association that sponsors two bus trips, so there’s two opportunities that are fully paid for the kids that didn’t happen this year. So that’s noticed a lot in our community.

Dr. David Schuler (Superintendent, Dist 214): Yeah, sure. Especially for a first gen students, right, travis? I mean, that’s what we really focus those bus trips on, making sure that we get them to four different types of colleges and universities. And that has been a challenge this year with not being able to do that while still to Heidi’s point, inspiring the kids to want to dream about college. Right without having them step foot on a college campus.

Audience Participant: Yeah I’ll just add to that, we had even made it a priority to get our fifth graders to a college campus, so every fifth grader went to a college campus. And of course, that hasn’t happened this school year. I think we may have gotten that in last school year. But don’t quote me on that. It was in that time frame of where we were stopping to do things like.

Audience Participant: I think in our situation. I can speak with to in Iowa, you know, we’ve been required to be in person as of this year, as of this week, and a lot of schools were in personnel this year with mitigation strategies. And so, you know, the college visits have been, I think, the biggest thing. But, you know, we’re very fortunate. We’ve got some foundation support. So over half of our seniors, as they graduate, we’ll be in a program that will give them two years of community college for free. And it’s all private foundation. We have Pottawatomie promise. And we have the advantage. And we’re in Southwest Iowa, big ag community.

We have an agricultural program and a lot of kids are really getting that. They’re selected as sophomores. And we have things that they do as juniors to seniors that really prepare them for that transition into our Western community college that we have here. So it’s only about the other half the graduates we have to work with. But I think as I’ve talked to them, there has been some issues with getting some of the different things, like the college visits that really, I think, make a big difference for kids. And some of the career fairs that do some other things. As far as helping kids understand a little bit more about what’s in the field of their career and technical education.

Audience Participant: Our schools are a very unique situation. This is actually the first, we just opened a brand new high school school, the first high school in our community last August. And so right now, we only have freshmen and sophomores. So we’re just trying to pick everybody’s brains and learn what the best practices are from everyone else.

Audience Participant: I think piggy backing off Tim and speaking toward something that likes us a lot of our though we’ve had a lot of different types of learning between virtual hybrid and in-person. We’re high poverty districts and a lot of our families are really struggling. So even prior to covid, it’s not unusual for 2/3 of our kids to hold down a part time, if not a full time job while we’re going to high school, which sometimes challenges participation in robotics or some of the other extracurriculars. I’m really concerned about how long there’s going to be this need for kids to be working and contributing to the family and maybe deferring the college entry route.

The good thing is we’ve got a significant partnership and pipeline with our local community college, similar to what Tim was saying for what isn’t paid for in college credit while they’re in high school there’s foundation funds for half, if not all tuition to be paid at our local community college for first time, college going students and for some of our kids, even full rides for any STEM related field at Iowa State University, but first and foremost is their concern about home and family and taking care of matters there, so, I don’t know what impact that may have on what was already a less than stellar post-secondary percentage of kids going on or post-secondary or even adults that have something beyond a high school diploma in our community and state.

Audience Participant: We really had to adapt our senior profile on their portfolios. You know, the workplace took internships. The employers are really struggling with having those kids in the workplace, and then the community service components that we’ve done. So there’s some really big things that we’ve learned from the redefining readiness initiative that we know really help our seniors get prepared for the next step. And even though we’re in person 100% time, those kinds of things outside around us in our community is not happening.

Nick Sproull (myOptions): Yeah, one of our education partners and we’re working with them right now on their survey questions for the coming year. And we’re building in or revising at least the question related to whether students’ ability to participate in those types of internship or apprenticeship style co-op programs in the high school have been impacted. And we obviously know the answer, right? We’re looking to put some data behind it to help raise the level of awareness. So thank you all for sharing the perspectives of your respective districts. I want to hand it over here to David to tie-in.

And that was a great, great lead in to tie in, David, a little bit. Well, first of all, say say a word about the redefining readiness initiative and then just how this year has impacted how people are thinking and talking about the initiative overall.

Dr. David Schuler (Superintendent, Dist 214): Well, thank you. I think redefining ready. And I know many of is lmpabout it because you all that I’ve seen all of you at national conferences in the past, but it really is, then you don’t need to say a word about it. You know, I think it really is a research based approach to what it means to be college career and life, ready beyond just the test score and what it does for districts like Theron’s and families who have completely implemented it is it allows you to create the personalized pathway for every child. Right and to dream beyond high school. And so, if we want to stay the greatest global economy the world has ever seen, why would we want to create a generation of high school graduates who could take a test well? It just doesn’t make sense.

So, we’re redefining ready does, it provides an opportunity for students to earn industry credentials if that’s their pathway of choice or early college credit, to Heidi’s point. Every student in our district, all 11,500 of them have access to 15 college credits before they graduate. And to Heidi’s point. I want our kids to leave knowing they can do college. They can choose to do it or not. Right that’s up to them. Now may be the right time and may not, but they have to have the self-confidence and self-efficacy to know they can do it. And that that’s what it’s all about.

As I thought about the conversation today, I look at our numbers – Our kids have already picked all their classes for next year. And what I found fascinating is our CTE class enrollments are through the roof. And I think it’s because it’s a hand hands-on class that most of our kids have been in since the beginning of the year. And world language is in the tank. Well, if you think about taking a world language remotely, you can totally understand why it would be such a challenge. But I’ve got to find some way for our kids who want to go to our big universities to get at least two years of a college credit or a credit in a world language or they’re not going to be accepted.

So it’s a really interesting dynamic as we look at the numbers. And I think one of point that I think we have to start thinking about, especially in this year, is how we support students like Alexa and Kyleigh next year, right after they graduate. And so we’ve really been intentional about building what we’re calling a pathway to completion program, where we identify students at the end of their sophomore year who might be interested in us, maybe first Gen, maybe interested in going to college, but don’t have the resources, or support systems.

And then we pair them with an alumni and they carries them through the end of their sophomore year in college and provides that opportunity monthly to reach out and say, hey, you know where the Writing Lab is? Or you know how to access and use your card? Then we have a retired counselor who our foundation pays to run the program. And it’s really designed on a quarterly basis to engage families from the beginning of their junior year up through the end of their sophomore year in college. And I just think we have to be thoughtful about our obligation to our students post graduation in a post COVID world, at least for the next couple of years.

Thinking through, we just finished up a virtual FAFSA completion night. You know, we are virtual career fairs. We had higher attendance than we had an in-person. And I thought, well, you know what, I’m such an idiot. I keep saying I care about equity, but if you don’t have transportation to get to that career fair, I’m not being equitable to that family. So going forward, there’s zero chance that we’re not going to have a virtual career fair in addition to an in-person career fair. Same with the college visits. We’ve had over 100 college visits in each of our schools up to this point in the school year. And I, I just think it’s thinking differently about reaching all families versus how we’ve traditionally viewed our role of families coming to us. We just have to go to them in a completely different approach.

And I think that relates specifically to college planning and aligns directly with Redefining Ready and if anybody’s not part of the redefining ready cohort. I would strongly encourage you to join. We’ve done site visits this year in Mansfield, Texas, which is doing amazing things. And we have now elementary, middle school and high school readiness indicators in addition to college readiness indicators of life readiness. We’ve been to Washington State. We had a site visit. We were in Long Island for a site visit upstate New York. So it’s great to listen to how districts are implementing a personalized pathway approach for all students in their buildings.

And so if people are looking for resources or as you’re thinking about building out that junior and senior year experience, I really encourage you to join this amazing group of individuals that I learn from every time we get together. We meet monthly for 90 minutes, and then post COVID and we also do two in-person site visits, which is great, too. And we think myOptions for being one of the corporate partners – Redefining Ready was one of AASA’s first cohorts to launch and we even has a Redefining Ready course for his graduates in Marshalltown. So super, super thrilled that with the movement and the traction it’s getting across the country

Audience Participant: I just want to say something about what David said. The kids that are in get our scholarships, the ones who have retained have been successful. The two students on the call, remember this, they all have strong family, friend, mentor advisor networks, when they’re in college and we’ve been talking about making sure that the kids who get these scholarships get successful for their first two years, and the bottom line for the kids that are the kids that are actually at risk, kids that are first generation are actually graduating at a higher rate.

And those kids, the number one difference is when they graduate that high rate, it’s the network that they have and what we are providing for them and what the foundation is providing, what the technical schools providing as a social network for them when they get to college has become very important, along with the free college programs that we do.

Dr. David Schuler (Superintendent, Dist 214): Hands down.

Nick Sproull (myOptions): I have another question that I’d like to pose, but I do want to just say that we have a cutoff at 4:00 PM eastern, and my sense is that this platform may just cut our session off. And so if that happens, know that I’ll follow up with a message to you all with some information about myOptions, because we do offer a platform for students and educators that fits into everything that we’ve been talking about today. And so that’s an important piece of this. But I want to go back to something that David said, and we’re way off script, and that’s OK. But this is actually a question I wanted to ask Dave.

You said, you know, you’ve had some learnings about this idea of doing career fairs in the future virtually. And I’m curious to know if you or anyone else on the call here has identified anything else that you’ve done this year that was different than before. And you did it in response to COVID. You say, you know what, we’re going to carry this forward, even in a post COVID world. Are there other practices or initiatives that you plan to carry forward?

Dr. David Schuler (Superintendent, Dist 214): I’ll throw one out. And then I’ll open it up to the group. For us, it was we moved to a block schedule this year because we were just concerned about students focusing on eight periods a day, remote person hybrid, all that kind of stuff, and for just less traffic and travel in the building. And our students from an equity perspective, have told us that they just absolutely love it. You know, and I just was on a call a couple of weeks ago with a group of students of color.

And they said, look, one of the kids that I have to take care of, my brothers and sisters and I now only have to worry about doing four classes of homework rather than a topic, take care of my brothers and sisters and getting them said in that because my parents will have to work two jobs, you know, and that’s I hadn’t thought about that before. And so telling that and sharing that story with our staff, you know, I would be shocked if we don’t get staff approval to continue with the block schedule moving forward.

Audience Participant: Personal interviews in the past, the personal interviews and we now have the students. They can be innovative and creative and they can upload a video of themselves telling about themselves. And I can tell you what, they are so much more insightful and it’s so much what they share with us on the videos just really helps us in the determination – much higher quality than sitting down with a group of adults and having an interview process. I think the kids are much more comfortable on the interview with doing a video and they just do some really great things.

Audience Participant: One thing that Alexa mentioned earlier was the schedule, you have with a half day and having more time together. We’re looking at that the same way – we’ve been in person since day one in August and have been sending our kids back since day one and our highest number of kids who are remote or one of our juniors and seniors who have passed state assessments, who are primary breadwinners for their family. And they’ve gone the asynchronous route of remote and stayed at home the entire time. And they’re doing better in school now than they were before because at school and their time when they can meet their needs and their family themselves and they’re being much more productive citizens outside of school, there’s no way we can’t look at some things like that because it’s what’s good for kids.

And so these kids are out working. I’ve got kids working on shrimp boats. I’ve got kids working all over the place. And actually some very in demand fields that they go to the ground level with courses that I could not offer. But they’re getting real well training that they’re making. $18 an hour as a high school senior. They’ll jump $20 and so we’ve got to look at some of those options. I’ve always known that eight hours of schools are the same. Very good. And this is really showing us that we can have school in different ways. We have to look at it.

Heidi Sipe (Superintendent, Umatilla):: Absolutely we also why haven’t we given every kid k-12, a Chromebook from the minute they walked into school? This is so silly. I can’t tell you how many high school kids have told me how many times they’ve written scholarship essays on cell phones and how much easier it is for them to have a Chromebook at home to do it on. Why didn’t I do this before? Totally stupid. It’s my fault. I would extend that as well.

Audience Participant: We went and bought a lot of hot spots for families that don’t have internet at home to try and close that homework out for the amount of money that we put into those, we use, we check them out through our library, just like you would a book. So that somebody is not taking them home and streaming Netflix all weekend, but they have that resource to go home and use for their homework.

Audience Participant: Well, the answer, I think, Heidi, is funding and sustainability of that funding. And we’ve been fortunate in Iowa to have a designated funding source outside of our general fund to be able to have had a one to one probably. 6 through 12 as far as take home and then elementary on site. But, you know, I think of the ongoing costs of an appropriate recycle schedule of those devices, as well as the bigger issue probably, which is the internet accessibility, which obviously AASA has been behind for a long time, trying to figure out the answer to that, whether that lay of the federal or the state or a combination of the two are going to be the big things there.

But I would agree with you from the standpoint that by not providing devices or allowing those devices to be used more readily, we probably inhibited student creativity and the ability to learn beyond the walls of the classroom.

Heidi Sipe (Superintendent, Umatilla):: We’ve had one to one four years. We just didn’t let them take home. You know, we had a million excuses for why, what if, what if, what if, what if, what if? And they were all adult problems. And for whatever reason, we let those adult problems become kid problems. And that was silliness. The one thing I agree with – we do have a number of hot spots that we’ve been checking out and we’ll continue doing that. But the one thing we found, and I agree, especially I’m really excited about Jessica, were worse and worse while being at the FCC right now. And in the director role. That’s really exciting for all of us.

But we are doing point to point. And if you haven’t played with that, it’s incredible. You can beam your internet access to neighborhoods without any additional costs. And it’s really a cool way to do it. So we have point-to-point going to a bunch of our apartment complexes. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great way to get it to neighborhoods. If you haven’t been doing that, that’s sustainable.

Dr. David Schuler (Superintendent, Dist 214): And so that’s a great idea. We’ve done that your idea and it’s help with our mobile home parks that we have in the district and our apartment complexes.

Nick Sproull (myOptions): Friends, we’re running up against time here. And so I need to make a point to say thank you, especially to Kyleigh. And Alexa is such a refreshing thing for us to hear student perspectives and student voices. And so thank you. Especially given the hurdles that you reached today just to get online here with us. Thank you so much for your time and your care.

Thank you. Obviously, to Dave and Heidi for their perspectives and for all of you for carving out time and participating. If there’s anything that myOptions can ever do to support you and your college readiness or post-secondary initiatives, please reach out to us. Like I said, I’ll follow up with all of the corporate links and all of the, you know, all the good stuff that comes with these things. So, again, thank you for your time, and please enjoy the rest of the conference.

Thank you for listening and we hope you enjoyed our session College Planning In a Remote Year: Students and Educators Share Their Journey. To learn more about myOptions or to engage with other past sessions, please visit us on the web at, or follow us on social media @myOptionsOrg. Thanks for listening!

College planning in a remote year is challenging.

At this year’s National Conference on Education 2021, presented by The School Superintendents Association (AASA) and Gold Partner myOptions, Ms. Heidi Sipe and Dr. David Schuler discussed with high school students how they are managing the college planning process this year, their emerging needs, and how they fit into Redefining Readiness!

Recorded on February 18th, 2021

Heidi Sipe

Heidi Sipe

Superintendent of Umatilla School District, Umatilla, OR

Dr. David Schuler

Dr. David Schuler

Superintendent of High School District 214, Schaumburg, IL

Nick Sproull, Ed.D.

Nick Sproull, Ed.D.

Director of K-12 Educator Engagement at myOptions