Xello’s Course Planner Feature helps students and administrators manage four-year plans with ease, even during remote learning.

When students step into Junction City High School, they quickly learn that the future is not so far off—and it’s up to them to start shaping the career of their dreams. 

With a curriculum that’s structured around the 16 nationally recognized career clusters, JCHS is the last stop for all students in the USD 475 district in east central Kansas. The educational experience is centered on preparing for post-secondary life.

“Our goal is to ultimately create productive citizens out of our graduates. We want them to have a livable wage. We want them to be able to contribute to society economically in service-based professions,” said Becky Hickert, Business & Information Technology Academy Principal.

We want them to be able to have business opportunities and contribute to our community as spenders, investors, and civically engaged adults. All of those things are important to us, so we prepare them for whatever they want to do next.

As a national model high school organized around the concepts of smaller learning communities, the school offers four academies: 

  • Freshman Success Academy
  • Business & Information Technology Academy
  • Science, Engineering & Technology Academy
  • Fine Arts & Human Services Academy

“We operate on a Career Academy structure, so all of our students are funneled into a ninth grade Freshman Success Academy where they spend some time doing freshman transition activities and career exploration,” said Hickert.

“For their 10th grade year, they choose one of our career clusters. Each of our academies house a number of the 16 national career clusters. Based on their cluster choice, students are sorted into one of the three career academies. So 10th– through 12th-graders have their advisories, which are structured around those clusters and pathways so they get career development activities as well as their coursework.”

The Junction City community supports the school through more than 150 formal business and education partnerships, including internships, work-based learning and training, early college experiences, and school-to-job opportunities. 

As the local high school that serves the Fort Riley Army community, JCHS also offers an Army JROTC program. Hickert says 60 per cent or more of their students are affiliated with the military.

“I would say upto 500 of our students are new to us every year, so about one-third of our student body is on a rotating basis at any given time.”

Continuing college and career readiness during COVID-19

The initial outbreak of COVID-19 came during the district’s spring break, which afforded administrators and educators two weeks to put together a plan. Universal access to technology gave them a leg up.

“We’re blessed to be a one-to-one device district, and so everybody from kindergarten through senior year has their own device checked out to them. That was key in facilitating our distance learning,” said Hickert.

The district made the decision to limit the number of platforms through which to communicate and educate so as not to overwhelm educators, parents, and students.

Skyward, their student information system, Schoology, their learning management platform, Zoom, and Xello were the primary tools that made distance learning possible in the spring.

“The two middle schools and the high school continued to use Xello to assist with our enrollment process and some career development activities through our advisory,” said Hickert. 

She used Xello with her intern students who weren’t able to continue their work-based learning sites due to the pandemic.

“We did things like further career research, assessing how their personality results related to a potential career, and drilling down which post-secondary schools they were considering.”

In addition to remote learning, the counseling team made regular phone calls home to seniors to ensure they were on track to graduate. Xello was a helpful tool to ensure everyone had the same information.

“Then they talked to all of the sophomores and juniors to make sure they were ready for next year and make sure they hadn’t changed their mind on any of their courses,” said Hickert. 

The JCHS counselors also used Xello when they called home and conducted a 20-minute enrollment appointment with each student and their parents.

“They pulled up Xello’s course planner so everyone was looking at the same screen and could discuss plans in a very specific way,” said Hickert. 

Some students whose work-based learning experiences were curtailed by the pandemic are expressing uncertainty about going to college with health risks on campus.

Hickert says she’s seen students use Xello to research entry-level careers that they could work at throughout a possible gap year.

Using Xello to research careers has been very convenient for our kids. It’s kind of like a one-stop-shop for all the things you want to know about career and college.

Xello’s Course Planner keeps things on track

In USD 475, 8th graders create a pathway through high school using Xello’s course planner feature. When they get to JCHS, they take their plans to the next level. 

“Our 9th graders use Xello as part of what we call Success 101. It’s a curriculum that integrates with Xello that helps students build a 10-year-plan. Their original four-year course plan is part of it, and they complete lessons and inventories, really diving into, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Who do I want to be?’, ‘What problems do I want to solve?’, ‘How do I want to contribute to society?’” said Hickert. 

The 10th– through 12th-graders have career cluster-based advisories which lay out a year of scope and sequence for every grade level. Each one has a weekly activity that either involves a Xello lesson, a field trip, or other career exploration. 

“Throughout the course of those three years, students have the opportunity to complete all that Xello has to offer for them, including the lessons, course planner, and portfolio building.”

During remote learning, Hickert observed that students and their parents were more engaged as they created plans in Xello’s course planner.

We’ve seen more kids really thoughtfully plan through their course planners up through their senior years, because they now have their parents involved with the tool.

“It’s helped parents become more aware of all the things we offer, and it’s helped our students be more thoughtful about their planning and explore more options,” she said. 

Advice for administrators and educators considering Xello

USD 475 has been using Xello for two years, after transitioning from Career Cruising, which they had been using for three years before that. Hickert says the most helpful part of integrating the tool into their schools is to start small. 

“There’s so much there, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed and excited by it. But what was very helpful for us, in the very beginning, was just focusing on the course planner because we knew that it was going to provide us data that we needed, and that it was going to ease the enrolment process.”

Another piece of advice is to involve the students as you onboard them to Xello.

“Students let us know what’s useful for them. They’ll tell us which lessons are especially impactful, so be sure to get feedback from them as they go through the lessons and activities.”

No matter what the future holds, students at JCHS are well aware that college and career are only a few short years away for them. With a rigorous career academy structure and the right technology tools to help them understand themselves and create concrete plans, they’re ready for anything.

Want to learn more about how Xello can help you create future ready students & enable you to meet state-mandated requirements? Just click on the link below to book a call with our education consultants. 👇

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Heather Hudson

Heather Hudson is a Toronto-based freelance writer and journalist. She specializes in content marketing, corporate storytelling and good old-fashioned journalism. You can read some of her work in The Toronto Star and learn more about her at heatherhudson.ca.