How do you like to learn? What are your interests? What do people with interests like yours sometimes do for a living? Questions like these provide a low-stress launch into a new program called Naviance, an online system designed to help students choose and achieve their post-high-school goals. The set of integrated college and career readiness tools has been introduced this year to students in 6th through 12th grades at all schools in Albemarle County.
“We had been hearing about the program at conferences for several years and are so excited that the county was able to get it for our kids,” said Amy Wright, Director of School Counseling at Western Albemarle High School. “It’s really a one-stop shop for career and college planning. There’s so much to offer our students.”
The program was rolled out this year with activities mapped out for each grade, from a relaxed introduction to the idea of a career for middle-schoolers to a consolidated application process for college-bound seniors. The progression focuses on student strengths and interests every step of the way, gradually channeling those interests into a plan for life after high school.
Henley Middle School sixth-graders will begin using Naviance in coming weeks with a module called Roadtrip Nation. After answering a few questions about themselves and what best describes them, they can access a series of short videos produced by PBS about real people with similar interests in their real-life jobs. The students can view the videos at home as well, and can repeat the process as they find new interests. “It’s a great way to get their feet wet,” said sixth grade school counselor Kimberly Warnick, “and they can utilize these resources throughout their entire time here.”
As they prepared for their annual Career Expo held in March, the seventh grade classes tried out a Career Cluster Finder, a survey tool which identifies broad categories (or clusters) of interest such as education or health care. The Expo event is organized by a similar set of clusters, making it easier for students to locate and browse the various fields. Eighth-graders used a Strengths Explorer in December with an eye toward their transition to high school. “We can tie the results of that survey in with a four-year planning tool, to give students an idea what their four years of high school might look like,” said eighth grade school counselor Kristy Lancaster.
These early preferences travel with the students in their Naviance virtual portfolio as they head to high school. “Counselors can learn a lot more about a child before they arrive in the building,” said Michael Craddock, lead coach serving as project manager for the district’s Naviance implementation. “They can use that information to offer more targeted electives.” Resume and portfolio-building tools will also give students a jump start on applying for jobs or preparing for college.
Amy Wright described the Career Interest Profiler given in tenth grade as a vehicle for students to drill down into career fields and stresses the importance of both the wide-open interface and student privacy. “Naviance gives kids an individual way to explore their interests without having somebody looking over their shoulder,” said Wright. “The career side is really important. If you love the idea of technical training instead of college, we can get you there.”
For many at WAHS, a big part of the junior/senior year interaction with Naviance will be oriented toward finding the right college match. According to Wright, “Seventy percent of our graduates will go to a four-year college after graduation and another twenty percent will go to a two-year college.” Naviance provides ways to keep students informed about schools they have identified as ones they are “thinking about,” by, for example, sending an electronic notification to the student when any of those schools send a representative to visit WAHS.
This year’s senior class was the first to apply to colleges via Naviance. “The seniors were champs in going through the process with the new system,” said Craddock. “The exciting piece is the integration of electronic transcripts.” Instead of having to order individual transcripts sent to each college (and paying a fee for each), now students incur no additional cost and can track when transcript requests are received, sent out, and picked up by the college. Teacher recommendations were similarly integrated into Naviance this year, which means the program can monitor the status of every piece of the application process.
On the horizon for next year’s college-bound seniors is a feature called a scattergram, a graphic that can show a current student, using his or her GPA and standardized test scores, how similarly-situated WAHS students in past years have fared in applying to almost any college in the U.S. Acceptance data from the past eight years has been loaded into Naviance to provide an anonymous, school-specific picture of a student’s chances. While these graphs don’t take into account other factors such as extracurricular activities, community service or legacy status, they do provide a quick way to judge whether a student is in the ballpark of a college’s typical acceptance range.
Naviance is provided to school systems by subscription, based on the number of students using it and the types of services provided. Albemarle County’s cost is $43,000 per year, which works out to about $6 per student. In the years ahead, aggregate outcomes will be reported back to the School Board and to individual high schools as Naviance matches student information with college data on enrollment, retention and graduation rates, providing a picture of how the school system is doing in helping students achieve their goals.
Curious parents can do a “live look-in” at all of this activity at any time via the PowerSchool portal, and they may be pleasantly surprised by their student’s progress toward defining their career and college goals. “We really want students to explore all of the depth the program has to offer,” said Wright. “I tell them to play around, you can’t break it!”