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Preparing Students for Postsecondary Opportunities: How Helios Education Foundation is Using Technology in Support of Guidance Counselors

Author: Dr. Paul Perrault, Vice President and Director of Research and Evaluation and Michelle Boehm, Research and Evaluation Analyst

High school guidance counselors have an enormous impact on the lives of students each and every day.  From ensuring that students have the correct courses to graduate, to advising them on college and career trajectories, guidance counselors often are instrumental in helping students take the next step after high school.

Despite their importance, guidance counselors are more challenged than ever.  State cuts in education funding often mean that fewer counselors have more students to advise.  At the same time, their jobs have become multifaceted, resulting in counselors being overstretched with less time to spend with individual students.  Currently, the average student-to-counselor ratio in the United States is 491:1.  That ratio holds true in Florida, while in Arizona it is 941:1, making it 50th in the nation. 

Believing that college and career advising is a key factor in creating opportunities for success, Helios Education Foundation has invested in innovative tools aimed at improving academic and college/career counseling.

Florida

In Florida, Helios has invested $1.25 million in a career planning tool developed by the Pinellas Education Foundation called Future Plans®.  This tool is a self-administered, self-awareness and career exploration program designed to help students discover and understand their talents, interests, and preferences.  The program also helps students align their skill set with educational pathways to in-demand and globally competitive careers.

Initial findings from evaluation work on the three-year project have showed positive trends.  In its pilot year of implementation, more than 50 percent of all sophomores across the district completed the assessment.  Overall, a majority of students found that the program has been valuable and that it helped them to think more thoughtfully about their future.  This was especially so for minority and higher poverty students.  For example, African Americans had the highest ratings of usefulness of the tool. 

Most importantly, Future Plans® starts the conversation between guidance counselors and students.  Instead of starting discussions with a blank slate, those students who complete Future Plans® have an inventory of careers that fit their identified skills and interests.  Guidance counselors, in turn, can use this information to give students more targeted and directed advice. 
 
Arizona

In Arizona, Helios has partnered with Yuma Union High School District (YUHSD) through our Ready Now Yuma initiative to create a comprehensive tool that provides students with grade appropriate to-do lists, tips, and resources aimed at college planning.  Yet, unlike many tools that are often web-based, the Ready Now Yuma tool is app-based meaning that students can use it on their smart-phones.

To support students throughout high school, YUHSD and Helios organized the app to provide different types of support and to-dos between their freshman and senior years.  This has led to a larger campaign by the District entitled 3-2-1-Go.  Meaning that if students follow the app over their four years of high school they will be ready and prepared for postsecondary opportunities once they graduate. 

Nearly 2,000 out of 11,000 students have downloaded the app since the Fall of 2015.  Most students have had positive ratings of the app which currently has a star rating of 3.9 out of 5.

Looking to the future, there is no doubt that guidance counselors will continue to play a pivotal role in preparing students for future college and career success.  Yet, at the same time, it has become clear that navigating the process has become increasingly more challenging.  To meet these challenges head on, Helios is committed to bridging the gaps between counselors and students to ensure that everyone, regardless of their zip code, has an opportunity to achieve  postsecondary success.


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