As a high school college and career navigator and advisor, I understand the impact school closures have had on the plans of students and educators alike. Chesaning Union High School in Michigan closed on March 16 under the state-mandated stay-at-home order, and we’ve since transitioned to remote learning.
For me, this has meant finding new ways to engage our students, and ensure they have the college and career resources they need to be successful. To achieve this goal, our district hosted a virtual college, career and skills fair.
Here are the four steps we took, and recommendations for hosting an effective virtual college and career event.
1. Establish access
The first step is an obvious, but important one: Ensure students can access the event from a stable internet connection at home. Communicate with students, their families and colleagues to troubleshoot any issues. For example, our district is providing devices to students in need.
I also recommend leveraging the solutions available to you. Our district uses Google Classroom, which is an excellent way to communicate with students. I used Google Classroom to connect with our high schoolers and send details about the virtual college and career fair.
2. Evaluate student needs
In the recent past, students were led to believe that a four-year college degree was necessary to be successful in life. Unfortunately, such messages were off target for those students who were interested in the skilled trades. Together, my school administration and I worked to create a comprehensive plan to address both college-bound students and those who were interested in the skilled trades or going into the workforce.
While a lot about the future remains uncertain, high school students’ post-graduation goals don’t have to be.
We started by asking the following questions:
- Class of 2020: Are you on track to complete all high school requirements? What specific steps will you take to achieve everything you need to do before classes start in the fall? Whom must you contact to complete apprenticeship applications?
- Junior class: How are you using your time to think about your postsecondary plans? Have you done any virtual campus tours or taken time to research the skilled trades that interest you? What courses are you planning to take next school year and how do they relate to your postsecondary plans?
In addition to these questions, we use Xello future readiness software to keep track of students’ unique college and career interests and skills development. Before the fair, I encouraged students to explore and update their program profile.
3. Gather resources
Gather resources, and create a simple way for students to access them. My approach was to create a “resource hub” within Google Classroom that included planning documents and career information. Job sheets detailed requirements, responsibilities and contact information so that students could reach out to local organizations and establish relationships for future opportunities.
The Google Classroom hub was the foundation of our virtual event. Again, I recommend using any e-learning resources you can access to provide information and communicate with students and families. Prior to hosting the virtual fair, I reached out to parents and students to provide the how, what and why of the event.
4. Encourage exploration
Rural school districts understand the challenges that can accompany job searching and relationship building. Our district is located in a rural, agriculture-focused area, so job shadowing opportunities are limited.
On the day of the virtual fair, I was able to share the skilled trades information with 393 students using Google Classroom, and students were free to search through the series of informative career sheets. I recommend including general job information and requirements for these resources.
Here’s an example:
- contact information of a local professional
- description of job with real-life task examples
- job requirements such as workplace documents, high school diploma and driver’s license
- recommended high school classes such as math, science and English
- links to our future readiness platform, so students can learn more about how to become a plumber or pipe fitter, for instance
Planning for the future
While a lot about the future remains uncertain, high school students’ post-graduation plans don’t have to be. Since hosting the skills fair, we’ve connected students with local unions and skilled trades representatives via Zoom so they can continue to learn more and prepare for the future. By leveraging the resources at your disposal and getting creative, you can ensure the future readiness process continues—no matter a student’s location.
Erica Birkmeier is the career navigator and college and career advisor at Chesaning Union High School, part of the Chesaning Union School District in Michigan.
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