Collaborating Across Programs for Student Success in Swain County

Nestled on the banks of the Tuckasegee river at the Gateway of the Smokies, three institutions of higher education are collaborating in a unique way to expand the overall reach of post-secondary learning and as a result, the number of students entering and completing a post-secondary education in Western North Carolina. 

During the 2020-2021 academic year, school districts across the country grappled with the best way to respond to a global pandemic while also continuing to provide stable and informative educational experiences. In that year of storming and relearning everything we previously knew about how we deliver K-12 education, many school counselors and change agents were also grappling with how to best deliver post-secondary planning resources and college access assistance. 

Seeing a need in our own school here at Swain County High, we began to establish a center for College and Career access unique to anything we have ever had before. Repurposing a room directly beside the media center, we placed myself the App State College Advising Corps adviser, our Appalachian State GEAR UP Coordinator, Western Carolina Project Discovery adviser, and Southwestern Community College dual-enrollment adviser together for college and career access collaboration. In an open office format, we are all able to perform our own individual tasks while also hosting conversations daily about different ways we can all work together to meet the needs of our students. 

Just this past year as GEAR UPrenewed their grant cycle, they were able to join forces with  Southwestern Community College to create a partnership between the two organizations for greater reach in the community. In this higher education partnership, GEAR UPand SCC work together to provide services designed to strengthen relationships between the school district and higher education institutions with the goal of creating a pipeline between the district and SCC. Establishing these relationships early on at the middle school and continuing through high school gives students an opportunity to understand who these partnerships are and what they can do for and with them, not only during their K-12 education, but for their post-secondary plans, too. 

Along with their collaboration together, GEAR UP and SCC both work diligently to provide their individual resources to all students. Whether it be planning field trips, buying much needed supplies, or creating access to technology otherwise too expensive to purchase, our GEAR UP Coordinator, Taylor Dodge, works to use her budget to the best of her ability to create access to resources students would otherwise not have a chance to experience. 

Likewise, our SCC representative and adviser, Jodie Waldroup, meets with and advises students on dual-enrollment courses they can take for free while in high school and gain college credit upon successful completion. Not only are students just gaining access to college credit while in high school, many of our students also graduate with either a certificate or full Associate's Degree increasing their career prospects immediately after high school. While advising students on dual enrollment, Ms. Waldroup also brings 5+ years of career advising experience and is able to coach students through figuring out what their next steps might be. 

Our Project Discovery adviser, Erin Goodpastor, comes and meets once or twice a week with her student population and makes sure that they are all receiving the resources they need to be most successful. Operating out of their host institution, Western Carolina University, Project Discovery is unique in that not only do they provide advising from middle school up through high school, they also plan and implement different college tours as well as unique outdoor experiential learning opportunities. Everything from biking, rafting, ziplining, high ropes courses, you name it, and they are doing it. These experiences provide students with opportunities outside of the classroom and school to work together, build team skills, and learn more about what they are passionate about. This in turn helps them discover different aspects of life in which they might have a keen interest. These experiences stacked on top of each other create years of informed decision making skills that serve the students well when they are  Seniors and trying to decide what to do past high school. 

As highlighted in a previous perspectives post written in April called College and Career Guide, I worked diligently in my first year working with CAC to create a framework that could address distance planning needs while also having the flexibility to be used during typical academic school years. In my day-to-day advising with Seniors, I am able to see how each of the programs mentioned above have positively impacted each student and help inform the decisions they make about where to go to college, trade school, or enter the workforce with credit or certification gained in high school. 

Alongside my partners in the College and Career Center, I have been able to meet with over 70% of the Seniors at Swain County High School.  Advising Corps tracks our work in a goal-based format, and this percentage puts me 22% over my goal to reach by December. Just last year, the thought of that goal being completed by even March seemed astronomical in reach. The success we are already seeing coming from the C3 is a testament to the hard work and dedication that each of my colleagues and I put in to provide resources to our students. 

While the College and Career Center is still very much in its infancy, to know that colleagues from all different higher education backgrounds have been able to come together and create a space students have described as “safe”, “relaxing”, and “helpful”, is extremely humbling and exciting. I am thankful for the opportunity to work alongside these higher education partners and know that even in the challenging times, the work that we are doing is so important and truly life-changing. 

Additionally, I would like to take a moment to extend gratitude to our Senior school counselor, Mrs. Roland, for stepping into a new role this year while still fulfilling her previous school social worker role, all the while providing our students with excellent assistance. While pursuing her own Masters Degree in school counseling outside of her regular work day, Mrs. Roland demonstrates to our students how dedication and hard work help us achieve our goals and reach our full potential. A special thank you should also be extended to our SCHS administration and district school board for identifying a need in higher education access and gathering the appropriate resources to support our students. 

The future is very bright for these Maroon Devils, and it is an honor to be part of the DevilGrad initiative! Go Devils!! 

*Perspective written by Swain Adviser Madison Armstrong

Published: Nov 22, 2021 2:04pm