By Susan Riddell
Lawrence County High School seniors strolled through their gymnasium last Monday, looking for their names on place cards.
Once all seated, they dined on a catered meal while watching a slideshow of Lawrence County High alumni. Each alumni photo included the person’s name, college, degree information and his or her current profession and place of residence.
That slideshow – which was part of the kickoff event for a new college-going program being piloted in the district called Close the Deal — will someday include the 136 seniors watching it. “We want to put into motion the notion that all of you are college- and career-ready,” Lawrence County school district Superintendent Mike Armstrong told students.
Close the Deal, which was spearheaded several years ago by Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson and other educational stakeholders in the Louisville area, gathers high school seniors to meet college recruiters and representatives from financial institutions that help students pay for college.
The program is being expanded this year to include Bullitt, Campbell and Lawrence county public schools. Similar kickoff events were held in Campbell and Bullitt counties earlier this month.
At the Lawrence County event, 19 advisers fielded questions from the students and offered guidance on applying for and getting accepted into a college. Recent college graduates, many who graduated from Lawrence County High, also met with students to share personal experiences and offer tips to get ready for college.
“Ninety percent of the fastest growing jobs require training beyond high school,” said Education Commissioner Terry Holliday, who also attended the event. “Finishing high school is just the first part of the process. We want all Kentucky students to finish the process and get that degree or certification needed to get that job they want.”
During the kickoff, students took part in three 15-minute table sessions that included discussions that ranged from scheduling classes to filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms to talking or retaking the ACT college entrance exam. One student asked how she could avoid taking remedial mathematics in college. Another wanted to know if her annual Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship (KEES) money would decrease if she struggled in college despite earning a 4.0 grade point average in high school.
Some college representatives encouraged students to get involved in college by doing what joining clubs and service organizations while KHEAA representatives shared information about scholarships, grants, work-study options and loans.
While Close the Deal focuses on getting students prepared to enter a trade school or a four-year or two-year postsecondary institution, it also partners well with the Kentucky Department of Education’s Operation Preparation initiative, which involves community advisors meeting with state 8th and 10th graders to talk about Individual Learning Plan (ILP) use and career interests.
“We’re excited that what began last year as a weeklong event will run for all of March,” Sharon Johnston, a program consultant in the Office of Next-Generation Learners with the Kentucky Department of Education, said about Operation Preparation. “Operation Preparation gets 8th and 10th graders thinking about college and career, and Close the Deal for seniors is the next step.”
While Close the Deal serves as a one-day event, schools are encouraged to have continuous conversations with students throughout the year. Guidance counselors are always ready to help students reach targeted goals, both Holliday and Abramson said.
But teachers must do their part, too.
Engineering teacher Brad West, who is in his fourth year at Lawrence County High, spent October having his students complete a series of activities that prepared students to interview someone in a STEM-related field.
After completing the interview – coupled with independent research – students developed a report discussing the person’s career field, education requirements, salary, job demands, work locations and more. They later presented their report to classmates.
“Close the Deal is a very beneficial culminating activity that will hopefully act as a catalyst in the students to take the many things that they have gained throughout the process, package it all up and take the next step in their young adult lives,” West said.
Eddie Dixon is a social studies teacher at Lawrence County High. He said teachers and counselors are routinely reviewing data linked to ILPs. “We are basing our instruction and assessments on this data,” he said. “In designing our classroom methodology, we feel it will be instrumental in providing our students with a path in which they can ‘Close the Deal’ upon graduating from Lawrence County High School.”
Students at each school completed surveys after meeting with college and financial representatives. Johnston said students appreciated the opportunity based on survey results and that they were saying they’d ideally like more time with the representatives for deeper, more meaningful conversations.
“That’s something we should be able to provide them in future Close the Deal events,” Johnston said.