The panelists agreed that this year has the potential to be exceptionally challenging, given the wide range of learning models across districts. Grant pointed to equity and access to technology as the biggest barrier in her Texas district.
Our district has purchased additional devices and hotspots to combat the issue and we’ve been able to leverage our website and social media sites to increase engagement, but it’s still a barrier.
The Fort Worth ISD’s strategy to support students with college and career readiness is multi-fold. They post weekly webinars about college and career readiness on their website and conduct virtual lessons for all grade levels.
College and career readiness coaches have virtual office hours every week where they meet with small groups of students and even one on one. They’re also running virtual college application boot camps on evenings and weekends. “These have been a huge success,” says Grant.
Despite their wide-ranging ways to help student get the information they need, she acknowledges that “there’s just no way to ensure we’re reaching everyone… the biggest challenge for our students and counselors is the barrier of equal access to technology and internet resources.”
In Arizona, Nolasco has observed that many students seem to lack motivation to complete the college application process.
“We’re seeing them slowly tail off. A lot of them are unsure about their future so they don’t see why they need to engage in the process right now. [They’re thinking]: ‘I don’t know what the world’s going to be in six months. I don’t even want to think about it.’”
The question becomes how to address these mindsets so the kids still see that this is a process they need to go through and that we’re here to support them.
Nolasco believes one answer is communication.
“It’s important to embrace different types of technology we haven’t in the past, whether it be social media, email, or other tools. I know it seems common but it’s not a practice in some of our smaller districts that relied on in-person interactions.”
She advises counselors and educators to be strategic about how and when they send out information.
“It should be condensed and intentional, so parents and students are not overwhelmed. They don’t want multiple emails a day. Maybe it’s weekly or bi-weekly. And once it’s emailed, we have to make sure it’s published to the school website and pushed out through social media so there are multiple ways people can access information.”
These new approaches may increase the risk of counselor burnout since they may be asked to do a lot more than they did when everyone was in school. Epstein says he’s hearing from counselors that things are challenging.
“Students can’t drop into the career center to ask a question. Counselors are needing to spend 15-minute chunks of time on Zoom to answer a 2-minute question,” he says.
All of the processes counselors have built over years of experience helping students, such as triaging problems, putting a student to work on something while they helped someone else—these are harder to do with the newer tools.