Photographs by Rick Falco
As the chilly air of late fall descends, seniors across the country bundle up and prepare for their last year of high school. Their hard work will soon be rewarded by a warm future that awaits them on the other side of winter. This experience is ubiquitous for high school seniors in America, but for students at Joel Barlow High School, they have been preparing for this moment ever since they stepped inside the doors.
Barlow spares no effort in its post-secondary planning program. The initiative starts freshman year and stays with students throughout their entire high school career. The aim of the program is to make sure graduates are truly ready to tackle the next phase of their life after high school, whether it is going to college, a trade school, the military or any other path that they choose to pursue.
“We pride ourselves on the fact that all students leave Barlow with a plan for the future,” said Paula Panos, director of school counseling. The process for each student is personalized as they work with their counselors each step of the way.
“We do things like have a junior family conference with the family to kick off the post-secondary planning, to see what the student is interested in doing,” said Panos. “We meet with our students individually; we have a paraprofessional in the career center to help them set up their Common App and match all their documents for their applications.”
While the counselors are the linchpin of the school’s post-secondary planning program, the career center is one of the key resources that sets Barlow apart from many other high schools.
Kimberly Wallace is Barlow’s college and career paraeducator. Her tireless dedication to the career center ensures that each student is informed about the post-secondary process and can make a decision that is best for them.
“I really love what I do, and I love to watch the students go through the process of looking for their kind of second home,” said Wallace.
The career center devotes each quarter to working with a different group of students. The first marking period begins with seniors and the college application process. Representatives from more than 130 colleges come to the center to speak with Wallace and make information available to the students about the programs they offer. Students can use their study period to work on applications and ask questions, of which they often have many.
The second marking period is when sophomores come to the center. They take personality assessments to get the wheels turning on what kind of future career would most interest them. Students also begin logging extracurricular activities, sports, and jobs so they have an organized look at what they will eventually put on their résumé.
“By the time they’re seniors getting ready to apply to school, they have a running list of all they’ve done over their high school career,” said Wallace.
During the third marking period, freshmen get their first look at the career center. They are introduced to the college planning process and start laying the groundwork for the assessments and activity logs they will put together as sophomores. Freshmen also receive an opportunity to speak to military representatives to see if they might be interested in a future career with the U.S. Armed Forces.
Finally, the fourth marking period is for the juniors. The work they have done regarding their interests and activities is used as a foundation so they can start learning about the college application process. Students’ time in the career center as freshmen and sophomores helps guide them toward which colleges and programs might interest them. This end-of-year preparation allows them to jump right into meeting with college admissions representatives and beginning to apply at the start of their senior year.
“The most gratifying thing is watching students from when they first start the college process and thinking about what they want to do and where they want to go and watching them evolve,” said Wallace.
The career center works hand-in-hand with the school counselors to ensure \students leave Barlow with the tools they need to succeed in the next stage of their life.
“Confidence. For me that would be the most important thing that they do,” said counselor Mary Atkinson. “That they are confident in everything they do. If they are prepared and they’re confident academically and emotionally, that’s what I would hope they take away from their time at Barlow.”
In addition to the junior family conferences, parents are always welcome to call their child’s counselor to stay up to date with everything that is going on in the post-secondary planning program.
“Working with our faculty and families to help the students maximize their potential is the most satisfying thing about my work here,” said Panos. “The faculty is compassionate; they are committed to student success. Our families are great partners in the process.”
With the help of their counselors and the career center, Barlow students put a lot of time and effort into preparing for the next stage of their life. This ensures that graduates can make the best possible decisions going forward. Once they are out in the adult world, Barlow alumni will be in excellent hands: their own.
See our slideshow of Barlow students working with school counselors and listening to career presentations by college representatives. You can advance the slideshow by clicking on the side arrows.