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Budgeting for 2016-2017 is in full swing at many schools and districts. No doubt educators are grappling with difficult issues like funding shortfalls, enrollment trends, personnel changes, and more.

But amidst the challenges, let’s not lose sight of the ultimate goal: ensuring students are prepared to succeed in life, including their careers and, if they choose, college.

Luckily, there are a few, relatively inexpensive strategies educators can include in their budgets to help further that goal:

1. Programming in middle school

Often, college and career preparation activities start in 10th grade or later. But, there is a growing body of research that shows high school is too late – most middle school students do not have a plan to be college ready when they graduate from high school.  Many also lack awareness of the work world, and few have realistic career plans. Starting in middle school provides students with the knowledge and tools to make good decisions that maximize their high school opportunities.

2. Social emotional learning

It is a trendy topic, but for good reason – students who participate in social-emotional learning programs demonstrate increased self-control and problem solving skills, improved decision-making and self-esteem, lower levels of emotional stress, and significantly better school grades and test scores compared with students who do not participate. Activities that boost social and emotional skills, and allowing students to practice these skills, can also improve the overall school climate.

3. Funding for student experiences

Involving students in experiences that help them focus on the future, develop college knowledge, and map pathways for attaining their goals improves their school performance. Visiting a college or employer, in particular, helps students understand their possibilities and, as a result, work harder to succeed. Funding for these activities is often an afterthought – or no thought at all – which is a disservice to students.

None of these strategies will break the bank. Yet, modest investments placed in proven programs that employ them can result in significantly improved student outcomes.

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