Who am I? What can I become? How do I get there? These are questions students are encouraged to ask themselves throughout high school, perhaps even more so now as the world likely feels more chaotic and the future may seem more unknown. The question for the families, educators, and other adults guiding these students: How can you help and what tools are available for students to explore possibilities and make plans?

Enter Washington’s High School and Beyond Plan (HSBP), a process that provides a guiding framework for students — together with their families and educators — to ask and answer these questions and better understand steps they can take to pursue their chosen careers.

“It’s more important than ever that every student is supported and has the opportunity to be both aspirational and thoughtful about their futures. The High School and Beyond Plan – and the conversations it evokes – provides room for exactly that,” says Kim Reykdal, Program Supervisor Lead, School Counseling, for the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). “Students who complete comprehensive HSBPs have been found to be more engaged in school, have higher graduation rates, better understand the connection between their learning and future career choices, and be more likely to continue on to further education and training after high school.”

Students begin the High School and Beyond Plan process by taking a career interest inventory between sixth and eighth grade. The inventory helps them identify potential career matches in line with their interests, skills and goals. The Washington Career Bridge inventory is a free online tool students can complete from home to explore such options. The inventory could be a useful self-reflection and exploration learning opportunity for students during extended school closures, especially for 8th grade students who have not yet completed a career interest inventory, Reykdal says.

Washington’s High School and Beyond Plan provides a guiding framework for students — together with their families and educators — to better understand the steps they can take to pursue their chosen careers. (Provided by Partnership for Learning)

Students should have an opportunity to build on their plans every school year until graduation by planning the coursework they’ll need, logging academic and extracurricular achievements, and tracking relevant experiences like work history, internships, and service learning, as related to their post-high school goals.

Schools have leeway when it comes to arranging how students engage with and manage their plans — for example, schools may have students work on their plans with school counselors, with a teacher during a homeroom or advisory class, or in a dedicated class session.

Federal Way School District offers an online platform to facilitate the planning process, including grade-specific checklists for students and families. By this fall, when students enter the 2020-21 school year, all districts will need to provide students with access to an online platform for HSBP processes.

The HSBP provides a framework for meaningful conversations to take place about course taking, academics and postsecondary readiness, says Shelby Namba, a School Counselor at Thomas Jefferson High School in the Federal Way district. “Plans are personalized and designed to help students set, visualize, and work to achieve goals. Our educators want to know how to help, and the HSBP provides a coordinated and consistent way to support scholars in making their dreams reality.”

“Research and workforce development statistics in our region and nation indicate nearly every student will need some postsecondary training or education,” says Sammy Anderson, Executive Director of College and Career Readiness for Federal Way Public Schools. “By ensuring every student has a plan, we are helping them unlock privileged knowledge and provide support, so they have every opportunity for postsecondary education success.”

“Some of our seniors have shared that they really appreciated completing the HSBP,” Anderson says. “During the process, scholars discover various routes to get to their postsecondary plans and learn more about themselves. Sometimes, they change their direction as a result of the exposure to other careers.”

“It’s also never too early for students to think about what they want to do after high school,” says Reykdal. “Districts should work with school counselors and teachers to implement a K-12 developmentally appropriate system of career and college readiness supports for all students.”

Parents and family friends can talk with students about their own personal career paths — how they got to where they are now in their careers, what worked well and what didn’t, what they wish they’d done differently or known sooner. It’s a good idea to talk about all types of different jobs in general with students so that their minds remain open to what may be a good fit for their interests and dreams. Reinforce that there are many types of postsecondary options so that students can explore the full array of career possibilities.

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Supporting your student’s High School and Beyond Plan at home can include simple actions, such as posting a student’s HSBP progress somewhere prominent around the house and periodically checking their academic progress and decisions about class choices against the list. This is a great way to spark additional conversations about what actions students are taking throughout high school to set themselves up for postsecondary training and opportunities that will lead to the career they’ve imagined.

It’s also a good idea to encourage the student to check in with their adviser, school counselor and/or college or career specialist – whomever is helping them develop their HSBP – periodically. And, students can, and likely will, change their minds about their post-high school plan throughout middle and high school. The HSBP process is intentionally designed to be flexible and to provide opportunities to think about careers and post-high school options that students may not otherwise have considered.

“Students and families have an opportunity during these unprecedented school closures to check in on these plans, explore options, be aspirational, and plan for the future,” says Reykdal. “The goal of a HSBP is to open their minds to opportunities and help them make choices about classes they take and activities they engage in to maximize their preparation for their adult life.”

Partnership for Learning, the education foundation of the Washington Roundtable, brings together business leaders and education partners to improve our state’s education system, so Washington students are ready to pursue the career pathways of their choice. Learn more at credentialessential.com.