Planning for life after high school

My Life Plan pilot project expanded to grades 6–12

A pilot program that last year had Minneapolis 9th-graders thinking about life after high school will be expanded to both older and younger students beginning this fall.

Within a few years, the goal is to have all students in grades 6–12 setting college and career goals with the help of My Life Plan, a new online planning tool, said Sally
Rothenberg, district advisory coordinator.

“The goal would be that every single student graduates from Minneapolis with a plan,” Rothenberg said. “They know what they are doing, and they have taken the steps to get there.”

The online tool will help students create a portfolio that identifies postsecondary goals and the route to achieve them.

Last year’s high school freshman were the first to use My Life Plan. Following the pilot project, the School Board made completing My Life Plan a graduation requirement beginning in 2010.

My Life Plan was developed by Achieve!Minneapolis, the nonprofit fundraising organization supporting Minneapolis schools. A recent $900,000 grant from the Cargill Foundation will support My Life Plan in high schools and expand the program into middle schools beginning this fall.

Achieve!Minneapolis CEO Catherine Jordan said students can use My Life Plan as a roadmap to achieve future goals. A middle school student hoping to become a doctor, for instance, will be guided into advanced math and science classes in high school.

“It’s setting expectations,” Jordan said. “If we want kids to be ready to go to college, we need to start much earlier than 12th grade.”

Rothenberg said My Life Plan also could help level disparities in access to counseling across the district. She linked those disparities to recent cuts that reduced the number of counselors by about two-thirds.

Even with fewer counselors available, savvy, determined students were able to find the information they needed, she said. But those without a well-defined postsecondary plan — the first in their families to apply to college, possibly — were sometimes left behind.

Linda Conley, Minneapolis lead guidance counselor, said the focus of career and education planning will change for high school students as they progress toward graduation.

Freshmen develop a four-year course plan to guide them through high school. The next school year, as sophomores, students inventory their interests and abilities, and then search for careers that would suit them.

Juniors start looking at specific postsecondary options. Then, as seniors, they write and submit their college and scholarship applications.

At the middle school level, My Life Plan encourages students to set academic goals for high school and develop the study habits that will help them attain those goals. It also starts middle school students thinking about career options that could guide which courses they take in high school.

Conley said some requirements will be integrated into class work. A college essay might be written in English class, for example, she said.

St. Paul Public Schools recently required their students to complete a similar planning course prior to graduation.

Peter Christensen, St. Paul’s executive director for high school education, said high school students want to know that their coursework will count for something.

“There’s a desperate search for relevance for high school kids,” Christensen said.

If students can see how an A today will help them achieve goals down the road, it will motivate them to succeed, he said.

Reach Dylan Thomas at dthomas@mnpubs.com or 436-4391.