News Column

Pilot program in Fayette high schools helps students see their futures in a new way

May 12, 2014

By Valarie Honeycutt Spears, Lexington Herald-Leader



May 12--Aujia Hines had little interest last year in going to college and only vague ideas about her future career, and she disliked talking in front of other students.

But Aujia, 15, said a pilot college and career coaching program at Southside Technical Center made her realize that she wanted to be an electrician and go to college.

"I didn't know that so many apprenticeship opportunities were available," Aujia said. Additionally, she said, "now I understand all that college has to offer and all that can come of having a college degree."

Through the pilot program from the Northern Kentucky-based company NaviGo, Aujia also learned how to coach other students in reaching their career and college goals.

Fayette County is the first school district in Kentucky to test the NaviGo program, which works somewhat differently at each of the five high schools where it is being piloted: Southside, Bryan Station, the STEAM Academy, Carter G. Woodson Academy, and the School for the Creative and Performing Arts.

In general, the NaviGo program presents a shift from practices in which career and college planning might be confined to a student's conversations with guidance counselors. The NaviGo curriculum shows teachers and students how to be career and college coaches, "to lay out a plan so students discover their own interests, their passions, their talents," said company founder Tim Hanner, a retired Kenton County school superintendent and a former Kentucky associate commissioner of education.

In addition to providing the pilot program in Fayette County schools, the company has a division for families that hire NaviGo coaches to help students prepare for life after high school.

"High school should be as much about students figuring out what they want to do in life as what they don't want to do," Hanner said.

A key component of the Fayette pilot program is that NaviGo staff members train teachers to coach students as they work on their Individual Learning Plan, or ILP. The ILP is an online planning tool that the state requires, starting in sixth grade, so students have a central place to document their academic achievements, standardized test scores, extracurricular experiences, and career and college exploration.

Mike McKenzie, a former Fayette County director of high schools, is now NaviGo's head coach.

"We want to make sure that every high school student has one adult ... within the building that they can go to and have conversations about their future, and what they have to do in order to be prepared," McKenzie said.

After the NaviGo program was implemented in Fayette County last fall, Bryan Station High School students came up with the idea that students also should become coaches or team captains. While helping other students as a team captain, 10th-grader Maggie Pool, 16, said she had learned enough new information to change her college and career focus from marine biology to marketing.

NaviGo officials tweak its curriculum throughout the year based on student opinions of how the program is working, said Lydia Stokes, Bryan Station's career and college readiness coach.

Additionally, NaviGo provides ongoing training and support for teachers, said Fayette County Superintendent Tom Shelton.

"In large secondary schools like ours, it is virtually impossible for our guidance counselors to have adequate time to work with every student one on one," he said. "For example, in our large high schools, we have four guidance counselors and 2,000-plus students. Our schools have recognized that we need more adults that work with our students toward this life transition."

Southside Technical teacher Richard Hall said that he has noticed that some students choose a college and set their sights on a specific degree, then discover through the NaviGo program that the college doesn't offer that degree.

Shelton said the district has money in the budget for professional development and training, and NaviGo's $150,000 a year contract is paid from that.

Shelton said he and Hanner were friends and had worked as fellow superintendents when Hanner was in Kenton County and Shelton headed Daviess County schools.

For 2014-15, Shelton said, he expected NaviGo would move into other schools in Fayette County, none of which has been chosen, and Hanner said this year's schools would continue to get support.

Hanner said NaviGo had contracted with Northern Kentucky University to evaluate how well the pilot program has worked. Jennifer Stansbury Koenig, co-director of the Northern Kentucky Center for Educator Excellence, said she expected to have a report in July.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter: @vhspears.

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Source: Lexington Herald-Leader (KY)