By Madelynn Coldiron
It’s never a good thing when a high school student is called to a meeting with the school district’s top two administrators and the guidance counselor, right?
In the case of Walton-Verona Independent, wrong. Every student gets an invitation to a free lunch with the superintendent, deputy superintendent and guidance counselor during junior year and again in senior year.
PHOTO: Walton-Verona Independent Superintendent Robert Storer talks to a group of juniors about their postsecondary plans during an informal lunch. From left are Will Compton, Hannah Flynn and Danielle Dixon.
The three educators meet informally in the high school conference room with groups of five or so students for an hour and a half, listening as the students talk about what they’d like to do after high school and in return, giving them information, advice and food for thought.
“We see a change in focus with our kids after these meetings. Very few times the change is short-lived. It’s generally long-lived – kids are like, ‘Wow, I haven’t really thought about that; I graduate in just a few months.’ Or ‘next year is my last chance.’ It changes their focus,” Principal Mark Krummen said.
The informal lunch sessions start shortly after the school year begins with the seniors – whose college application deadlines are more pressing – and end by early March with the last of the juniors. It’s like Operation Preparation almost all year long, agrees Superintendent Dr. Robert Storer. Krummen said the lunch meetings are a big part of the college and career readiness efforts at the school, which graduates an average of 120 students annually.
How it works
Storer kicked off one recent meeting with a group of juniors in typical fashion, telling how, as a middle schooler, he knew he wanted to be a teacher.
“You become what you think you are and it’s time to start thinking about what that is,” he told the five students.
“The whole purpose of this meeting is to get you all thinking – what do you want to do?” Deputy Superintendent Pamela Sayler said. The educators emphasized that college is not the only option.
One by one, the students shared their career and postsecondary ideas and plans, while Sayler, Storer and guidance counselor Melissa Walker offered tips, resources and lots of nuts and bolts information. Topics ranged from college visits and financial aid to job shadowing and ACT scores. Sayler also throws in cautionary notes about responsible use of social media and driving.
During the session, Will Compton, who is interested in psychology, learned the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist and the education requirements for each. Sayler suggested that Caitlyn Rahshulte, who wants to be a librarian, talk to the local public library about after-school volunteering. The educators suggested that Madilynn Herbstreit look into Morehead State for her nursing degree in addition to her other two college choices.
Krummen said the local contacts that the three administrators have, along with their education experience, enable them to link students to community and other resources. The discussion helps the students expand their horizons and “think a lot bigger” he said.
As the students talk, Saylor takes notes for follow-up. The students also receive handouts on occupations and wages, and the Kentucky requirements for college readiness, along with an 11th-grade monthly planner and a folder in which to keep college and other postsecondary materials.
The meeting, said Danielle Dixon, “makes me feel more prepared for next year, what I need to do for deadlines and scholarships.”
“I feel very comfortable now because of this,” agreed Rahshulte. “Before I was kind of like, ‘I guess we’ll get there when we get there,’ but now it’s like, ‘Well, ‘there’ is almost here, so…’ I feel much more prepared.”
Board Chairwoman Tina Crase, whose son is a senior this year, said the program is made even more effective because the district’s administrators freely mingle with students in community service projects, at ball games and other venues.
“The program itself is a great thing, but the kids knowing our administrators in the trenches makes that program even better,” she said. “We’re really blessed that the kids get to see them at different levels. They see our administrators as more than just people who have to talk to you about this stuff.”
The program began four years ago with seniors, “to make sure we were addressing the needs of the students in helping them prepare for once they graduated from high school,” Sayler said.
The seniors liked it, but told administrators they wished they’d had the information earlier. So the next year, juniors were added.
A common theme throughout is that students do not have to choose college as their postsecondary option, but can look at other paths, such as tech school, apprenticeships or the military.
Krummen said it’s the personal attention from the administrators that sets the program apart. “They take the time to build the relationships and that’s what’s key,” he said.
The talks are slightly different for juniors and seniors, with a greater focus on application and scholarship deadlines and financial aid for the seniors. Storer said he also emphasizes to seniors the idea of creating their own identity and knowing what their hopes and dreams are.
The lunch sessions are now percolating down to the other grades. Krummen, his assistant and Walker each meet annually with small groups of sophomores. “We’re really focusing on the junior year and getting ready for that college and career,” he said.
Walton-Verona High School students who are part of a northern Kentucky student group are also working on creating a freshman version of the program that would be student-led, Sayler said.