By now, high school graduation is in the rear-view mirror for the Class of 2019. For upcoming seniors, though, they have one short summer to prepare for their last year of high school - and for what lies beyond the diploma.
Carey Crawford, the 12th grade counselor and graduation coach at Johnson High School in Oakwood, part of the Hall County School System, helped put the wraps Saturday night on the high school careers of 353 students - the largest graduating class in JHS history.
Each of those graduates had different goals and different skill sets, so putting them on a path to success was a daunting task. Crawford said Johnson is unique in that one counselor assists seniors only.
"I handle basically all the older kids and the other two counselors divide counseling duties for 9th, 10th and 11th graders," Crawford said. "When all the seniors are on my caseload, I can divide them into groups such as SAT and ACT registration workshops...we do admission days for different local colleges, where I can walk them through the whole application process. The seniors have different needs than the other grade levels."
Crawford said students today have a number of options when it comes to mapping out a high school career.
"Even when I started as a counselor 12 years ago, we still had a college-prep track and a tech-prep track and the curriculum you took in high school was different based on what path you were on," Crawford said. "Now we're in a situation where there's only one high school diploma - it's a general high school diploma - but the options you can take along the way are much more broad. At Johnson, we have both AP and IB courses, we have a regular-ed track, we have many different career-tech pathways, we have a Work-Based Learning program and then we have county programs such as Honors Mentorship, Early College...so the students have a lot of options on how they want to meet their graduation requirements."
Crawford said while having options is beneficial, it's also overwhelming for students.
"A young person has a lot of different voices speaking to them," Crawford said. "They have their parents, they've got their peers, they've got teachers, they've got counselors and then they have the people who coordinate all these programs speaking to them, as well, and I know it can be very overwhelming for a teenager to determine which voice they should listen to."
A rising senior at JHS, 17-year-old Wynne Kelly, is part of the academically-rigorous full IB diploma program. Kelly said she's received guidance from a number of those voices described by Crawford, but she said she's always felt more support than pressure.
"Full diploma means that all of the seven classes a day that I go to are at the IB level...I'm taking this program to hopefully set myself above some other students that will be applying to out-of-state colleges," Kelly said. "My parents have given me a lot of freedom in choosing and figuring out what I like to do and what I want to do with my life. They're very supportive of the IB program and they encourage me to challenge myself academically."
Even though she's immersed in high-level courses, Kelly is also very involved in the school's theater program, and she said that helps her maintain her sense of balance, especially when stress sets in, which it does from time to time.
"I use theater as an outlet," Kelly said. "Whenever things are really getting heavy and we've got mid-terms coming up or I have a lot of checkpoints to meet, it honestly just lines up perfectly with my schedule for theater and I'm able to just channel all that energy into creative expression."
While Kelly has her sights set on Bard College in New York, other JHS students are thinking about their careers post graduation. That's where Hall County's Work-Based Learning (WBL) program comes in for Sania Bhatti, a rising junior at JHS.
"I really wanted to get some job experience in the field that I'm planning on going into, which is marketing, because I want to really decide if this is what I want to do with my life," Bhatti said.
At this point in her high school career, the 16-year-old Bhatti is on the business and technology pathway, so she wants to make sure she knows what a marketing job entails before she chooses that major in college. She said she's glad to have the option of the Work-Based Learning program.
"It feels a lot more freeing - a lot more beneficial for me," Bhatti said.
Bhatti said she's hoping to be able to work with a small business in Hall County this fall, perhaps helping with social media marketing.
Whatever pathway a student chooses, Crawford said her goal is to make sure teenagers in her care are successful, but she said success can be measured in a number of ways, so balance is important for young people.
"We're encouraging students to commit to a program and gain new skills, but at the same time, explore and grow and learn in general because you don't know who you are just yet."
For Part I of our two-part Destination Diploma series, follow this link.