College and career advising in a virtual world

In the new world of COVID-19, the ability to adapt to virtual learning environments has gone from being a “plus” to a “must” for moving young people to college and career readiness.

In fact, the education landscape has seen more changes in the last six months than in the last 30 years. Some of these changes include an emphasis on virtual teaching and learning, a reinvigorated commitment to social justice, and exponential changes in both higher education and careers.

Drawing on its three decades of experience, national nonprofit CFES Brilliant Pathways in Essex, NY, is increasing training and virtual college- and career-readiness support for students and schools in rural and urban areas, as well as sharing its strategies for responding to new educational demands.

STRATEGY #1: Monthly College and Career Readiness (CCR) Advisor Training

School counselors are maxing out their bandwidth. A recent survey of 5,300 middle and high school counselors reported that they wanted to help students graduate from high school and attend college but lacked the necessary resources and time.

To fill the void, CFES is training teachers, coaches, business leaders, community members and retirees to step in as College and Career Readiness (CCR) Advisors.

Advisors are trained and certified by CFES to motivate and support K-12 students in setting and achieving their college and career goals.

CFES’ monthly virtual CCR advisor trainings include seven sessions that provide a flexible timeline to fit busy schedules. While the first and final sessions are live, the five other sessions are posted online, allowing participants the flexibility to independently complete assignments when the timing is best for them.

Topics range from EssentialSkills™ and paying for college to trends in higher education and the workforce.

In the wake of COVID-19, educators need professional development opportunities that follow a virtual learning model. Individuals who participate in a CCR training receive a professional development certificate from both the University of Vermont (UVM) and CFES Brilliant Pathways.

STRATEGY #2: Weekly webinars

Each week CFES streams a live webinar, alternating between topics relevant to students and educators.

CFES knows cost is the number one reason why students from low-income households choose not to attend college and also why they drop out of college. CFES provides access to a wide range of topics, from financial literacy to current events, past webinar presentations included government officials, like New York Gov. George Pataki and Vermont Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, as well as Brian Flores, head coach of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.

Prerecorded sessions are accessible on YouTube and the CFES website, allowing both scholars and teachers to access the recorded webinars at their convenience.

These sessions also provide classroom support, making for discussion material that can be woven into a pre-existing curriculum.

STRATEGY #3: E-mentoring

Mentoring is about relationship building, and research tells us mentor-mentee relationships are formed most effectively in small groups. The task of adapting to a virtual world doesn’t change this.

Mentors help students develop a vision for what they want for their lives, offering resources and examples of how to pay for college, input on the admissions process, terminology, job shadowing, career trends, job skills and more.

Many students have questions about their career pathways, while others are unsure about where to start.

CFES believes that students can’t be left behind — the organization’s comprehensive e-mentoring initiative ensures this, meaning CFES provides virtual support through digital technology, online software or email and other guided means.

From facilitating peer-mentoring among scholars to virtually introducing them to professionals in STEM fields, CFES helps to connect the dots as virtual interactions present new challenges and opportunities.

Program benefits include the opportunity for local professionals to digitally connect with groups of students where they can share industry-targeted career insights. Additionally, virtual college tours co-moderated by CFES Fellows — recent grads themselves — demystify the post-secondary experience.

And with an expansive network, CFES alumni “pay it forward” by mentoring current CFES scholars.

Agility and perseverance are key in a post-COVID world — as is staying connected.

Staying connected is easier said than done for CFES’ rural scholars who face unique challenges relating to distance from resources and limited broadband in their rural communities.

Organizations like CFES have the capability and technological savvy to meet educators and students where they are with intentions of closing the “digital divide.”

As teachers and school leaders seek virtual learning tools, CFES is ready to support the evolving needs of 21st-century educators and their classrooms.


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