Appalachian College Advising Corps advisers began their college access work this month in high schools across western North Carolina. The Corps expanded from 6 advisers to 18 advisers over the summer, and two of the advisers are sharing their perspectives about students returning to schools either all remote (Plan C) or in a hybrid of remote and in-person instruction (Plan B).
Brittney Benson, new adviser at Burns High School, writes about her experience serving in a school system starting the school year in Plan B.
Not only am I starting my first professional job at a school that has never had a college adviser, I’m starting this work in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. When I accepted this position, I remember thinking that this is not what I expected this milestone to look like. However, the first week of school has reminded me that I am not alone in this. Not only are my colleagues dealing with the same stressors, but so are my students. This has been the first week of a school year filled with milestones, many lasts and many firsts, and these look entirely different for them, too. The difference between us though, is that many of them are looking to me to tell them that everything is going to be okay.
The high school I’m serving at is on Option B, meaning that we are doing hybrid instruction with some students online and in-school on different days of the week. We are also completely virtual on Wednesdays to allow the school to be fully sanitized between groups of students. This in itself has become a giant obstacle because there are at most two days a week in which I can meet with a student face-to-face, but I have to do so without pulling them out of the classroom. This dilemma we’re facing just means we have to get a little extra creative.
If you’ve been on social media lately, you know that the biggest tool in education right now is the Bitmoji office/classroom. As I was looking over some example classrooms in a Facebook group, I realized that while a lot of students can’t connect with me on a face-to-face level, they can at least connect with me as a cartoon. Running with this idea, I created a Google Classroom filled with resources for the college application process. Then, I added all the seniors to an email list that has my bitmoji as the sender. So far, every single way I have virtually communicated with them has had my bitmoji on it, and it seems it’s working. On the first day of school, two students came up to me and told me they knew who I was because I looked like my bitmoji and started asking me questions about their college lists.
Then came the next obstacle: my fully remote learners and virtual Wednesdays. During normal school days, they would have constant access to my office to drop in and ask questions, but this couldn’t be possible virtually, right? So on the first Wednesday that I had to work from home, I sent out a poll to my students to ask them if they would utilize Zoom office hours and what types of Zoom workshops they want to participate in. Every response said they would use them, but they were all available at different times. So, for the time being, on Wednesdays you can find me in my Zoom room from 8-5 answering questions about FAFSA, RDS, and all things college, because I have to reassure my students that they are not alone during these milestones. So while they may not be able to “just swing by my office,” at least one day a week, they’ll know I’m only a click away.
Zack Beasley, returning Appalachian Advising Corps adviser at Freedom High School, writes about his experience serving in a school system starting the school year in Plan C.
“Welcome to the new normal” has become the mantra of 2020. In Burke County, as with much of the United States, it seems there is a new normal every two weeks. This is the case in Burke County as schools move to virtual learning for the Fall semester. transition to virtual learning. With students shifting to a virtual space, my work as a College/Career Adviser at Freedom High School had to change as well.
Going into my second year as a College/Career Adviser, I am excited about the opportunity to have a full year at Freedom High School. In my first year as an adviser, I hit the ground running on October 1st, with the school year already in full swing. It was a difficult transition, trying to find my place in the school while filling a brand new role in the school’s ecosystem. Going into my second year as an adviser, I had a rare second opportunity to make a strong impression, both on the staff and the rising seniors.
My first year as an adviser was a whirlwind, but I was able to make progress in developing a college- going culture in the school. I utilized our school’s extended home room periods to invite representatives from UNC Charlotte, Appalachian State, North Carolina Central, ECU, and NC Central to talk to students accepted into the school about what they could expect once they arrived on campus. Before schools were closed due to COVID concerns, I was able to meet with over 60% of seniors and was working to entrench myself in the school’s culture by collaborating with teachers and administrators.
Plan B was certainly going to provide its own unique challenges, but at the very least, I was excited to be back in the school setting where I would get to interact with students face- to- face, or mask- to- mask as it were. In truth, I was looking forward to the chance to get to work in a place that wasn’t my apartment. That being said, Plan C has given me the chance to experiment with different ideas and implement new practices as an adviser. I do believe that this situation will serve as a lesson in accountability to the students of Freedom. I have already found that it is easier to get in contact with parents/guardians. The majority of my work the past two2 weeks has been outreach and developing resources. In working with my fellow advisers, we shared and created tools that I hope will be able to help students despite us not getting to work face- to- face.
One of the tools I’ve created that I’m most proud of is the virtual office that students will be able to access at any time. I like to think of it as a one-stop shop for all of the students’ post-secondary needs. It features senior checklists, FAFSA, RDS, and scholarship resources in addition to college/career exploration tools. While I can’t work with as many students face- to- face as I would like to, this virtual office provides students with a number of “passive items” that students can work on independently but can reach out to me if they have any questions or need any help. In addition to this virtual office and the other resources I plan to share throughout the year, students will be able to schedule virtual one1-on ones-1s with me through an online meeting scheduler to discuss their post-secondary plans.
If you asked every adviser what they would prefer, the unanimous choice would be to be able to work with students in-person. However, this new virtual setting does have a handful of silver linings. In the two weeks that Freedom has gone virtual, I have already seen a tremendous improvement in terms of communication between myself and the students. Just this Monday, I sent out an email to the senior class containing the virtual office as well as a survey for the students to fill out so I can get to know them better and understand their concerns about going to college. More students have filled out this single survey than all of my surveys from the previous year combined.
Another positive that I hope will arise out of this difficult situation is the increased level of responsibility that students will have to demonstrate in virtual learning. Checking emails regularly, completing online assignments on time, and being in communication with teachers are all skills that students will be able to carry with them as they transition into college next year. Students are being held accountable for their success, and I believe that this will carry over if/when we return to in-person instruction.
Obviously, the situation we are in is less than ideal, but I believe that all the students and staff here at Freedom are doing the best they can to make the most of it. Covid-19 has forced us to re-evaluate our methods and consider the most equitable way to work with our students. As we weather the storm together, I know that we will come out of it as better students, educators, and advisers.