Serving as an adviser with the Appalachian College Advising Corps has afforded me the opportunity to assist students in preparing for postsecondary education. However, this semester has been quite different from what I imagined when I learned of this opportunity. Graduating in the middle of a pandemic brought challenges to educators and students alike; and while my help certainly has a different “look” from that of my predecessors, I feel my position’s importance has never been more critical.
For many, the presence of COVID-19 means a slower and less demanding daily schedule, but this is not the case for high schoolers in 2020. The circumstances surrounding COVID-19 have demanded diligence and efficiency never before expected of students. Employers ask students to pick up more shifts as they have an ‘easier’ schedule - despite having to learn an entire semester of curriculum while only being in the school eight days out of the month. As a result, students have been forced to employ time management and persistence that, given a ‘normal’ senior year, would not be expected of them - “senioritis” is out of the question. From the outside, it may seem these students have been stripped of certain rites of passage; and while this may be true in some aspects, serving with the College Advising Corps has given me the unique opportunity to see how students served by the Appalachian College Advising Corps have risen to the occasion and created a totally different frame of mind.
I witnessed one of the most concrete examples of the COVID-19 class’s abilities to persist while facilitating a Virtual College Fair during NC free college application week. In a normal year, a college fair is hectic; students come from all around to try to steal a few minutes of facetime with admissions counselors from the colleges in which they are interested. The Virtual College Fair presented the students and myself with a unique opportunity to work with college admissions counselors. While the travel component may have been minimized through holding the college fair virtually, the madness was not.
Before the fair could begin, it needed to be planned. With the help of my fellow Appalachian College Advising Corps advisers, Phoebe Thompson and Molly Riddle, I was able to plan the college fair efficiently. This consisted of many emails to college admissions counselors along with the coordination of students’ and counselors’ schedules. We emailed admissions counselors from each college we wished to be represented and coordinated schedules using Zoom and Google Chat. These tools were invaluable as scheduling from three different points of view was quite the hassle. We spent many hours on video calls with one another and exchanged countless chats and emails organizing the event. Next came the relentless promotion that was necessary if we actually wanted attendance. We used flyers, emails, and all-calls home to make sure the students were aware of the fair. And, lastly, the fun part: executing all of our hard work. This was when the students truly showed how dedicated they are to their personal success.
Since many of the students at Alleghany High School and other schools in Western NC are committed to jobs, extracurricular activities, and sports on top of their school workload, a four-day college fair is yet another item on a seemingly infinite list of things to accomplish. However, these students chose to add a commitment to their already-busy schedules to explore their opportunities for postsecondary education. For three hours each night, students participated in webinars specific to the institutions they are interested in and learned about the admissions process, as well as the culture, of the particular school. After hearing the admissions presentation, students were able to inquire further, listen to other students' questions, or take a break from the fair until the next webinar.
Looking back, I feel the virtual event was extremely successful. Unlike a normal college fair, holding a Virtual College Fair allows for the meetings to far outlast the hours that counselors are available. With the recordings of every session compiled into a single Google Drive, students that were unable to attend the meetings will be able to watch the sessions at their convenience. COVID-19 has presented many adversities that teachers and students alike will be happy to move past, but the Virtual College Fair is an aspect of the current times that I’m sure many would be happy to see stick around - I know I would.
*Written by adviser Brooke Barnhardt