Anyone who has spent time in a small community knows that people can wear multiple hats, and all of your daily tasks may not be included in your job description. That is especially true here in Graham County. Coming into Robbinsville High School, I was initially apprehensive about my role here. At RHS, not only is there a great counselor who is very hands-on with the seniors, and classes that seniors are required to take (College Readiness or Career Management), there are also two other college access programs: Project Discovery and GEAR UP. Project Discovery (Talent Search) encourages middle and high school students to stay in school and graduate while providing the resources to help them transition to a postsecondary education. I work with several Project Discovery team members, including one alumna of Robbinsville, Erin Goodpaster, and the director who is famous in Graham County Schools, JennieV. Sorrells. GEAR UP stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs.Our GEAR UP Coordinator is Frannie Williamsand exemplifies the term Southern Hospitality: she sent her husband to my house with a box of fresh produce last week. We even have a Native American Counselor who works with our Native American population (~15% of our school body).
When it comes to college access, I serve on a team of at least six wonderful people. In reality, that team could be expanded to include the entire front office staff and those who teach our College Readiness and Career Management classes: Mrs. Moody, Mrs. Tincher, Mrs. Lail, and Mrs. McGuire. This feels like a lot of support people when you only have 80 seniors. Initially, I was concerned that adding me to the mix would lead to a “too many cooks in the kitchen” situation. However, I have found that instead of just adding another cook and crowding the kitchen, the kitchen grew and we could add another course to the meal.
Through effective collaboration, we have identified several approaches that work well for us. In an attempt to not overwhelm the students with having to have the same sorts of 1:1 conversations multiple times, our process begins when the student meets with a single adviser who updates everyone else on the student’s progress. Other times, the student gets the attention of two or more advisers simultaneously, so it is almost like a panel of resources at their disposal. Other times, if one staff member is unavailable, one of the others can step in and work with the students. For example, during national GEAR UP week, Ms. Frannie was working on a program for all the teachers to set up with their students. Erin and I assisted by going into Sophomore Academy classes and doing some college knowledge Kahoot!s with the students for GEAR UP. Earlier this month, there was a virtual senior/parent night primarily hosted by Project Discovery, but that was available to all seniors. JennieV was the main presenter, but because there were so many of us, we had breakout rooms at the end and did smaller Q&A sessions with just a handful of students and their parents. Regardless of the situation, there is always someone who we can reach out to for extra support.
This collaborative environment fosters a sense of community and understanding that promotes group success over individual optics. As someone who grew up hating group work, this is the kind of group work that is supposed to be happening, and the kind that actually accomplishes shared goals.
*Written by Adviser Sarah Caudill