How We Built a College & Career Center, Great Idea for PTSA/PTA
Our journey to build a College & Career Center in the Seminole High School
I was the PTSA President (Parent-Teacher Association) for two years at my son’s high school. During my tenure, from 2017–2019, we built a College & Career Center in the school to help students and parents with their college search, career decision & scholarship selection. The purpose of this center is to provide college preparation guidance, scholarship information, match available scholarships with participating student profiles, and to share tips on essay writing and resume building.
We received the “Top PTSA Program Award” for building this center.
Following are a few pictures of the College & Career Center. Our knowledge base is accessible online via a Google Drive link: http://bit.ly/shscollegecenter, and we welcome everyone to use this information. We got help from many parents in building this knowledge base and conducting various sessions and workshops.
Following is our College & Career preparation roadmap that indicates that college preparation starts early, way before the senior year.
Major Steps in our Journey to Build this College & Career Center
The primary goal of this article is to share our journey to inspire other PTSA and PTA teams to build similar centers in their high schools. We spent a lot of time in research, discovery, planning, and coordination. You could utilize our learning and shorten the timeline when building your own Center.
The takeaway from this article will help other high schools and PTA members to build similar service for their students.
Step#1 — Understand the Gap/Shortcoming
This journey all started when a parent, Ms. Huong, went through the college and scholarship application process with her son. She shared that the application process is complicated and confusing. I asked her if she would like to take a lead in solving this. Later we met with many other parents who echoed this sentiment and had similar experiences. We learned that a lot of scholarships money is available, but there is low participation from students. We also learned that counselors typically have hundreds of students assigned. They receive a lot of college, career & scholarship information daily, and they try their best to disseminate this information to their students.
Following is a quick summary of the gap/shortcomings we found.
- Our school counselors receive a lot of information from the colleges, scholarship agencies, and local businesses. They are doing their best to load this information in designated systems (such as school website and other tools such as Naviance).
- There is a lot of scholarships money available, but there is low participation from students. Students and parents are not aware of available scholarships, and they do not understand the steps to apply for scholarships and internships.
- We have a diverse population of students and parents. Some are technically savvy with access to email and the internet, while others do not have email.
- Many parents are busy with multiple jobs and do not have time to research college opportunities for their children
Step#2 — Share the Learning with Others
Based on our initial learning, we decided to do something about this problem. We presented our findings in our monthly PTSA meeting. Then we met with the counselor Ms. Kay Williamson and the principal Dr. Connie Collins. We found that everyone already had a glimpse of the problem. Everyone wanted to help, but the problem felt too daunting for a single person to solve. It required contributions from the school staff, parents, and students.
Our Counselor suggested that we visit other high schools and find how are they addressing these problems. This was a great idea, and it allowed us to learn from others and not start from scratch.
Step#3 — Learn from Experience by Visiting Other High Schools
We shortlisted 2–3 high schools to visit and reached out to their PTA presidents and their college center volunteers to coordinate a day and time to visit. Our first visit was the Winter Springs High School College Center and we learned how they run their center. Their PTSA president Ms. Melissa Weathers, School Counselor Andrea Hormuth, and Kristin Drauswere very helpful and shared a lot of useful information with us. They even shared their documents, templates, etc. and allowed us to duplicate, if needed.
Next, we visited the Winter Park High School College Center. Elisa M. Mora, the college & career specialist and Nicole Millard at Winter Park High School walked us through their center, services they offer, sign up process, etc.
Both Winter Springs High School and Winter Park High School have successful centers. They utilize help from parents and students who work closely with the school counselors. We planned to use the learning from these schools.
Step#4 — Drafting of Plan & Proposal
Along with the learning from other College & Career Centers, we also conducted research and formulated a proposal to set up a College & Career Center within the Seminole High School main campus. Upon opening, we planned for the Center to have a computer, printer, shelves, a whiteboard and plan to offer the following services:
- Information on scholarships and internships
- Provide college preparation guidance unique to each grade
- Printed copies of scholarship and college application information
- Help in navigating through available college and scholarship resources
- Matching of available scholarship with student profile (for those who come for help)
- Share tips on essay writing and resume building
- Hosting college visits on Seminole High School campus
To be able to provide the above services and to build an effective College & Career Center, we had to address the following four areas. We came up with few processes to operationalize the day-to-day work in these areas.
Area#1 — Collecting Information and Building the Knowledgebase:
- Counselors provided information which they receive from the colleges, scholarship agencies, and local businesses. This information was contained in printouts, emails, and hyperlinks.
- Volunteers compiled information which they gather from the counselors and other sources.
Area#2 — Engaging and Guiding Volunteers:
- Built a signup form for parents and students to sign up as volunteers
- Produced an orientation method — pre-recorded video, a guide, in-person
- Prepared a process for volunteers to come and share information with students and parents
Area#3 — Working with the College and Career Center Visitors:
- Built a signup form for students/parents to pick a designated time and met volunteers
Area#4 — Promoting the College and Career Center
- Posted of information on Seminole High School website, and communication on Facebook
- Built banners and posters for various places within the school
Following are a few pictures of our planning notes and brainstorming process. Interesting to see how many iterations our banner went through!
Step#5 — Share, Get Feedback and Finalize the Plans
We shared our plan with the PTSA members, counselor Ms. Kay Williamson and principal Dr. Collins and ensured that we have buy-in from everyone. We incorporated the feedback from the counselor, principal, school staff, parent volunteers, PTSA board members, and others.
Step#6 — Implementing our Plan
To implement our plan, we created four teams, each with a team leader.
Team #1 — Collect, compile, update information and create documents
Team #2 — Set up and maintain a process for volunteers to oversee and support the center
Team #3 — Set up and maintain a means to assist students and parents with information
Team #4 — Promote center activities and events
These four teams were responsible for the following tasks:
- Schedule regular meetings with Ms. Kay Williamson to discuss action plans and status updates
- Meet with counselors to review the documents and materials needed to stock the center
- Secure a location for the center
- Set up the center, secure and stock all shelves
- Request shelves and whiteboards, display boards
- Request a mobile rack to display brochures and materials during lunchtime
- Request computers and a printer for the center for students to use
- Collect, compile, and update all information in printable and electronic documents: such as Scholarship: Benacquisto, National Merit Scholarship, and others, Internship: Local and Out-of-State, Internship Fair, Job Fair, Financial Aids: Bright Futures, College Pre-Paid Plan, 529 Plan, Community Service, Leadership Experience, Resume Building, Recommendation Letters, Essay Writing, College Application, Career Choices, SAT, ACT Preparation, Preparation Timelines for 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th Graders, Scholarship and Internship Opportunities for Each Grade
- Request training from counselors regarding College Application, Financial Aids, due dates, etc.
- Schedule shifts for parents to assist students at the center
- Meet with counselors to discuss hosting college visits at Seminole High School
- Set up a process for volunteers to maintain and support the center on an ongoing basis
- Create a contact list and online forum for a volunteer to communicate and coordinate activities
- Work with Winter Park and Winter Springs High Schools to gain knowledge and information on setting up onsite college visits
- Schedule meetings for sub-committees to complete tasks
Step#7 — Setting up the room
Soon Dr. Collins allocated a room for us to build the center, but there was a small problem! The room allocated to us had been used as storage and had a lot of stuff inside. With help from many parents & student volunteers and on a beautiful Saturday morning, we were able to move all the things to another room.
Along with building a physical (paper) knowledge repository, we decided to host our knowledge base on Google Drive. We have laptops and a printer in the College and Career Center to access this Google Drive. Students and parents can also access it from their home or other places.
Google Drive Knowledge Base Link: https://tinyurl.com/shscollegecenter
Step#8 — Kick-Off
Meanwhile, we met with Ms. Kay Williamson for planning and coordination and started volunteer sign up and conduct kick-off meeting.
Building this College & Career Center in Seminole High School is one of the greatest achievements of our PTSA team. This center is one of the primary reasons I feel the time I spent as president was worthwhile, and I hope my efforts help students for years to come. I hope to encourage others to take part in building similar resources for our children and if you have questions on your journey, let me know!
Credits to Ms. Huong Bui (chair/lead), who connected all the dots and made this possible, Ms. Joan McLendon, Ms. Karen Mazzola, Ms. Julie Lashbrook, Dr. Connie Collins, Dr. Orvie Mizzell, Ms. Kay Williamson, Ms. Shelly Prom, Ms. Katie Lind, Ms. Melissa Weathers, Ms. Andrea Hormuth, Ms. Kristin Draus, Ms. Elisa M. Mora, Ms. Nicole Millard and so many parents and student volunteers. Special thanks to Cassandra Gordon for proofreading and editing this article.