Getting college and career ready in middle and high school

Student Angelina DiGiovanni  discusses a scholarship essay with Ramona High School College & Career Center Coordinator Lisa Filice. Sentinel photo/Pixie Sulser
Student Angelina DiGiovanni discusses a scholarship essay with Ramona High School College & Career Center Coordinator Lisa Filice. Sentinel photo/Pixie Sulser

Part 2: This is the second of a two-part series about college and career readiness in Ramona schools. Part 1 focused on elementary schools.

By Pixie Sulser

As students move from elementary to middle school, the focus on college and career readiness increases.

“OPMS is a marvelous example of a middle school which has taken college preparedness to heart,” said Dr. Robert Graeff, superintendent of the Ramona Unified School District. “With combined efforts of NJHS, ACE classes, AVID, collegiate flags on campus, college T-shirt days, campus video programs, and the principal’s strong leadership in this area, our middle school students are receiving a daily dose of collegiate vocabulary which is truly remarkable.”

Each leadership group on the OPMS campus has a significant role in involving students in activities outside of the classroom. The National Junior Society (NJHS) makes college awareness its goal. Two years ago the group purchased a college flag for each classroom and office.

“The idea is to expose students to as many universities as possible even if just by name,” explained NJHS co-adviser Ingrid Forbes. “Staff members regularly share facts and bits of information about their adopted colleges on OPT (the school’s daily broadcast)”

NJHS also presents college information sessions to classes, sharing with all students what kind of courses should be taken in high school, what the SAT and ACT actually are, and making college a viable option.

“It’s all about the students constantly seeing and hearing about college that takes the mystery and sometimes, the fear, out of the idea,” said Forbes.

The AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program at OPMS also promotes college awareness as well as study skills. AVID instructor JJ Sclar said, “Students in the program not only learn information about future careers or how to get into college, but they are learning the skills to dominate in college.”

Students who participate in the program in seventh and eighth grades tour all five main San Diego universities.

“Just as our testing data shows great strides in achievement in the elementary level, our data shows convincingly that students are entering high school far more prepared for rigorous college-prep coursework than ever before,” said Graeff.

“My own goals in the preparation of students,” continued Graeff, “include a hope that we will continue to increase the rigor of our academic instruction and eventually move to the place where high school graduation and college entrance are very close mirrors of each other.

“At the high school level, we are experiencing a true revival in preparing students for college. Ramona High School recently restructured its entire counseling office and counseling assignments to better support the college readiness mission.”

RHS counselor Tocarra Best shared that a College and Career Center is now open for students through the Bulldog Connect program. “In the center, students may research colleges or careers, receive help in completing financial aid forms, search for scholarship opportunities, or take career surveys to help focus their skills.”

Ramona High students, from left, Silvia Corona, Raymundo Rojos and Jennifer Perez research college and scholarship information at computers in the college and career center. Sentinel photo/Pixie Sulser

The counseling department also created a publication targeted for RHS students titled Ramona High School: College & Career Guide. It provides tips for college applications, scholarship searches, financial aid, vocational and technological institutions and career explorations.

In their junior year, all students complete a College and Career Portfolio, which requires them to research at least one career choice requiring a college education and one career in which a college degree is not required.

“Many teachers highlight colleges and career opportunities,” said Best, “with guest speakers and information posted in their classrooms.”

Students also have the opportunity to prepare for certain careers through the school’s ROP courses. ROP stands for Regional Occupational Programs, which teach students job skills on industry standard equipment. RHS students may learn career skills through a variety of ROP offerings in health care, automotive repair, sports medicine, food trades, digital photography, veterinary assistant, and architectural design/interior design.

High school students involved in NJROTC program experience many activities designed to encourage students to pursue college or be career ready after high school, shared Commander Mike Ernst. Through trips to various facilities, the program exposes students to various career options. “We provide career guidance on how to prepare to take the ASVAB test, which is the military entrance exam,” said Ernst. “We then provide counseling on career paths within the service.”

NJROTC also focuses on gaining acceptance into service academies as well as earning scholarships. “We currently have two previous students who received NJROTC scholarships to four year universities,” shared Ernst. “Sabrina O’Gwynn is a sophomore at Tulane University and Adi Gutierrez is a freshman at the University of New Mexico. This year senior Paul Loska received a four year scholarship, although he has not yet chosen his school.”

“NJROTC also offers something called Alternative Scholarship Reservation which was put in place for students who may not score high on standardized tests, but who have demonstrated leadership, integrity, and character,’ explained Ernst. “If these students were not in NJROTC, they wouldn’t have this extra opportunity for a scholarship. No matter whether students pursue career or high education, the mission of NJROTC is: to instill in students in United States secondary educational institutes the values of citizenship, service to the United States, personal responsibility and a sense of accomplishment.”

RHS schedules visits from college representatives that are on campus during the school day giving access to all students. “Additionally,” said Graeff, “RHS has worked very hard to increase the number of courses (A-G) that students can take which qualify toward admission to any public or private university in California.”

“The school continues to provide a wide variety of Advanced Placement courses, with recent data showing a marked increase in improved test results in the College Board’s AP testing program for college credit.”

At Montecito High School sophomore students took the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude test (PSAT) for the first time. “The results form the PSAT will give our students and staff an indication of college readiness in addition to other factors,” shared Cynthia Nakhshab, principal.

“Our counselor also presents scholarship information to our seniors as well as takes the students on a tour of Palomar College.”

Graeff shared that, although the district has never completed a follow-up survey to learn how many RHS students eventually graduate from college, the senior exit surveys compiled each year indicate that approximately 40 percent of RHS graduates plan to enroll in a four-year university, 50 percent in community colleges, and the remainder divided between entering the work force and joining the military.

“The fact that so much data shows that college graduates typically earn two to three times the career earning of non-graduates makes a very compelling case for improving the rate of college admission of our students,” said Graeff. “The future of our schools in Ramona lies in increasing expectations for student achievement, applying more attention to critical skills needed in the 21st century, and a rapid increase of online curriculum and technology based learning.”



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