Sunday, January 27, 2013

Big Week For Seniors and AP

This is going to be a hefty week for seniors and students in AP courses.

English 12 classes will meet with school counselors in Dell 2 lab on their assigned day. We will show classes how to access the FAFSA website and our own scholarship page. Then, we will explain the local scholarship program, with its deadline of March 4. We will also give seniors time to log on to their ConnectEDU accounts to request midyear transcripts.

In addition, Mr. Goldman will put on his AP Coordinator hat and visit AP classes to explain the process of registering for the AP exams.

Here are some details:
AP exam registration materials are provided in a brown Manila envelope. Enclosed you will find the Bulletin for AP students and parents, an orange exam registration form, a blue sheet with information, a green form related to fee reductions, and an envelope to remit payment.
The AP exams will be held between May 6 and 17. The whole point of the AP courses is to prepare for the exams, on which a passing score could lead to credits or accelerated study at the university level.
The cost of each exam is $89. Students who qualify for a fee reduction based on income or other criteria specified on the form are responsible for $53 per test. This year, we are also introducing a partial voucher program rewarding students for taking exams last year. For every point you scored in 2012, you get a dollar reduced from your total payment in 2013.
For now, we can accept checks, money orders, and cash. If we are able to manage a system for accepting credit cards, that will be announced accordingly.
AP exam registration forms and fees are due to the school counseling office no later than March 1, but you are encouraged to register in advance of that date. Unless otherwise specified (world history or extended time), all exams will be given at the Pikesville National Guard Armory.
If you lose the forms, you may download them from edline.

Regarding scholarships, it is paramount that all students pursuing any type of post secondary education complete their FAFSA as soon as possible, but certainly before March 4. See the blog page for paying for college for more resources.
Students and parents are advised to monitor for new regional and national scholarships that we hear about.
For the local scholarships, notice that there are two forms: one general application that is to be copied for each external organization to evaluate and must be accompanied by two letters of recommendation, and one committee application that needs no accompanying documentation since our own scholarship committee is comprised of teachers who know the seniors. Don't forget to provide a signed transcript release and submit all your apps, letters, and other requested information by March 4. All of the scholarships, forms, and applications are available for download from edlineThis deadline will not be extended or excepted for any reason other than schools being closed on March 4.

Last, we will devote time with the English 12 classes to assist the seniors in logging on to their connectedu accounts in order to submit midyear transcript requests. The three school counselors will be able to submit midyears electronically on common app, but we need all of the other midyear requests posted on connectedu by February 8 in order for Ms. Billingslea and Mrs. Pope to organize and collate mailing the transcripts when common app is not used.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

This Too Shall Pass

What is your perspective on control? Do you believe that everything in life is what we make of it; we each have control over our own destiny? Do you believe that there is a supernatural (divine, fate, predetermined, or random) force that exists, and that we are simply going through the motions or reacting to challenges that are placed before us? Have you considered that perhaps our lives are somewhere in the middle?

In school as in life, there are stressors. We get injured, either due to freak accident or to miscalculation. We find ourselves in scary social situations, either due to poor judgment or unfortunate timing. We experience setbacks. It happens. Some believe that if you walk the straight and narrow path, you are sure to succeed. Some believe that challenges are inevitable, and we are ultimately being judged by how we handle those dilemmas.

There is only so much control that we have in our lives. You can choose to do your homework or troll Facebook.  Every day, or several days a week, or never. You can choose to limit your studies to exactly what you teachers assign daily, or you can be more proactive... or do less than what it takes to be successful - by whatever measure of success you choose to use. When misfortune occurs, you can work to overcome the adversity, or you can globalize the problem and get overwhelmed, responding with denial or worse.

In any case, there are some things that you can do to improve your situation, and there are some situations about which you have no external control. In those cases, you do have control over you how you internally respond. When you implement behaviors to prevent or react to problems, it usually helps ease your mind to believe, "Well, at least I tried." You may also sometimes choose to approach the problem with uncompromising standards, resolute that your position is the right one. However, when you don't get your way - in your family, your social life, your experience in school - you don't have to completely give up. You can choose to take a step back and consider that maybe this is a chance for you to try a new approach to a new (or even familiar) problem. Does ignoring the problem help? How about blaming others? At the very least, take a minute to slow down and process the situation.

Just keep trying new ways of dealing with unforeseen setbacks. Even if a strategy worked once, it may not work every time. Learning how to overcome adversity is a major part of growing up, and adults can tell you, the learning never stops. Even Socrates said, "The more I learn, the more I learn how little I know." It's incredibly important that we all remember the centuries-old adage This Too Shall Pass. Ultimately, whatever is bothering you will either go away or be replaced by the next thing. There will be another problem to tackle tomorrow. You will always have new and different accomplishments and challenges. The wonder in life is understanding and remembering that nothing is ever so big that it's worth derailing everything else.

Please, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, feel proud that you tried, and keep trying. As the famous college basketball coach Jim Valvano said, "Don't give up. Don't ever give up."

Monday, January 14, 2013

#PHSfit College Fair

Please come to the 2013 College Fair, during National School Counseling Week!
In addition to the local and regional colleges that have confirmed attendance, Gustavo Minaya from CCBC will explain the Parallel Enrollment Program, and Craig Meister from Tactical College Consulting will offer two workshops: one on the "Three Key Components of Your College Application," and one on "Finding the Right Fit."
Thank you Camille C. for designing the PHSfit logo, and thank you Tzvi Z. for designing the poster!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A month of blogging

This blog has been live for a month. In the past month:
There have been 1,395 page views.
That's an average of 46.5 page views each day.
While Blogger doesn't have the functionality to see how many of those page views were actually from the Pikesville community, it is pretty cool to see that people have loaded the blog from the United Kingdom, Germany, Denmark, India, Russia, France, Hungary, Indonesia, and the Ukraine. Welcome to Pikesville!

The most popular post is actually an ad for the College Cash 101 event.
The most seen post of original content is a reflection upon students asking about their PSAT scores.
There is currently a tie for the most-seen pages, between the Academic info page (most likely due to our Virtual AP fair) and the About/Contact page (maybe all those folks in Europe want to see where Pikesville is).

Because of this blog's popularity, it seems like this may be the closest to solving the dilemma of getting information out to our stakeholders. Tweets are fine for short announcements, but this allows parents and community members to learn what Pikesville High School students are doing and how their school counselors are facilitating their academic, career, and personal/social development.

So, after a month, what are your thoughts? It's time to open up the dialogue. Please, feel free to leave comments. The more you comment, the more say you have in the content provided within this blog. Do you have questions about some of the resources? Any requests for certain resources? Or are there too many as it is?

Of course, if you have concerns that this blog stirs up and you'd like to discuss those concerns in a confidential setting, never hesitate to see Ms. Billingslea in order to schedule an appointment with your school counselor.

Coming soon: information about course advising for the 2013-14 school year, AP exam registration, National School Counseling Week, and the #PHSfit College Fair!

Monday, January 7, 2013

College and Career Searching

We are currently in a period between winter break and the February course advising period when the school counselors are both available and proactive in assisting our middle grades prepare for their lives after high school.

From Wednesday into next week, we will meet with English 10 and 11 classes in the computer lab to conduct career assessments. We will discuss the importance of knowing one's personality profile and recognizing that we are more likely to be satisfied in a career if its demands play to our strengths and preferences. Last year, when we oriented the freshmen and sophomores to ConnectEDU, the follow-up activity involved students exploring their Holland type, or whether their interests were more closely aligned with 1-3 of the following interest areas:
Since the students have had that exposure, we will use this opportunity to follow-up on last month's PSAT score distribution and take the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory, through which students will explore their levels of:
  • Extraverson vs. Introversion (whether they get energy internally or from others)
  • Intuitiveness vs. Sensing (whether they absorb information literally or interpret it)
  • Thinking vs. Feeling (whether they make decisions using logic or emotions)
  • Judging vs. Perceiving (whether they prefer matters being settled or having options)
Knowing one's MBTI type can help people make informed decisions about relations with others, roles in activities, and of course, career choices. Combining that MBTI awareness with knowing your Holland type makes you even more equipped to make responsible career choices. Remember, these career activities in high school are not meant to steer students to any one particular career. We simply seek to empower students to know the factors that are involved in making informed decisions when they are ready.

Additionally, this is also the prime time for juniors to meet with their school counselors to make a sensible college search and testing plan. Aside from the SAT School Day on April 17, juniors should discuss what would be a reasonable time to take the ACT. We can also use this time to discuss juniors' college priorities, give them an unofficial transcript, and start to develop a list of possible good-fit colleges. Before scheduling the appointment, please check to see if one has already been scheduled for you. And of course, parents are welcome and encouraged to participate in this process, as they are likely the ones to do the driving to the college visits!

Don't forget about the #PHSfit College Fair at PHS on February 7 (5-7pm) as part of School Counseling Week, as well as the CCBC College Fair on March 5 (6-8pm). Consider pre-printing labels with students' name, address, phone number, and email address for speed and ease in completing the admissions reps' info cards.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

What is #PHSfit?

What is #PHSfit, exactly?

"PHSfit" was born last summer out of a brainstorming session that was focused on finding ways to get more students to take rigorous courses such as AP, but not necessarily to imply that students should take more AP courses than what is appropriate. We determined that, just like we are encouraging students to look for colleges that "fit" their skills, interests, and needs, and careers that "fit" their interests, values, and skills, students should find balance in their course requests that reflect an overall goal of being college-ready, but not at the expense of one's youth. And from there, we agreed that finding "fit" makes perfect sense for helping our high school students make rational choices amid the many pressures they feel during these turbulent years.

Career Development
First of all, it's important for teenagers to understand that people change careers frequently. For that reason, our goal in high school isn't so much to help students decide what they want to be when they grow up as much as it is to empower and inform them with the skills to make educated choices about potential fields they would like to pursue. There are numerous assessments that are available (John Holland, Myers-Briggs, ASVAB) to help people find careers based on their personality types. Something interesting about learning one's career-related personality type is that you can discover roles in plenty of career environments that satisfy your needs and priorities, without being linked to one specific (obscure, even) career. This comes with open and honest conversations with one's school counselor, parents, and professionals who work in those different fields.

College Completion
Once a student has a broad idea of what type of career he or she would like to pursue, it becomes easy to narrow down the post-secondary choices to four-year, two-year, technical, or military training. For those students who don't choose a military career, technical training, or enrollment at community college (which is hardly deserving of some students' unfair classification as "13th grade"), finding the right four-year college for them becomes a seemingly daunting task. Many of our students perceive that they "must" get into the "right" college, which is patently false. Also, many others feel overwhelmed by all the choices. Because young adults undergo so many changes during their college years, it is almost silly to pick a college solely based on a 16-year-old's 10- or 20-year objective. Rather, students are much better served having a half-dozen conversations between winter of sophomore year and the beginning of senior year with their school counselor about their geographic, cultural, and academic priorities for college, and being open to understanding during that time that their grades and, yes, standardized test scores have a significant impact on their college options.
The goal needs to be more about college completion than just college admission. When looking for college, an article by the Illinois School Counselor Association and the Illinois College Admissions Counselors astutely notes that "the best college for a student is not necessarily the most competitive college he or she can get in to." It is true that there is an element of a game (full of rules, should's, and should-not's) in the college admissions process, but if you talk to an admissions counselor longer than the quick college fair marketing sale pitch, you'll see that they sincerely work to identify students who will be successful at their colleges - after all, a university's retention rate and four-year graduation rate are just as important to the vaunted rankings as its acceptance rate. That being said, students will eventually graduate from a college that they ought to. It just makes more sense to put one's resources into visiting and researching prospective colleges than toward applying to a dozen (or more!) that are impulsively identified.

Academic Appropriateness
In our high school, we have such a college-going culture that students who are at or above grade level ability have a choice of pursuing rigor on their core classes at either the honors or Advanced-Placement level. Students are urged to discuss their options with their teachers, who offer recommendations for the following year's courses based on the students' current effort level, test scores, and analytical ability. We also use AP Potential to identify students who may have been overlooked by traditional recommendations. It is no surprise that in our school, students know the benefits that AP courses offer. However, two areas that our #PHSfit campaign seeks to rectify are some under-identified students' aversion to academic risk-taking, and other students' underdeveloped sense of moderation. We address these by encouraging students who have a statistical probability of passing the AP Exam to "take at least one" in their junior and/or senior year, and by devoting the school counselors' time in February to meeting with every student to evaluate their course requests and discuss whether or not that student is overextending him or herself, considering the student's many other obligations - be they academic, familial, or athletic, for example. Just because five teachers recommend you for AP courses next year, that does not necessarily mean it is in your best interests to take five AP courses next year. Balance, moderation, and fit are key terms, understanding that the students and parents make clear commitments to stand by these course requests when they become the course schedule the following year.

Extra-curricular enrichment
There are two main reasons why students get involved, and should get involved, in co-curricular activities. The most popular one is that it helps students find an artistic, political, physical, or service-minded outlet through which they can express themselves and take a break from the daily academic grind. By interacting with students who have common values and interests, they establish a support system and community that transcends the intellectual stimulation traditionally found in school. The other motivation for involvement is that students accurately understand that activities, service, and leadership are a "look-for" in the admissions process, and they sometimes become generalists who dabble in many areas without pursuing any one passion. It makes sense to use ninth grade as an exploration year, but our hope is that they will finish that year having found a group (or created their own!) that offers them an extra-curricular fit and gives them the chance to seek a deeper understanding of their values, strengths, and weaknesses by challenging themselves in this safe support system.

Social Development
Adolescence is a time for many changes, as we all know. However, many teenagers choose to stay connected to peers and groups with whom they've grown up since elementary school or earlier, and choose that allegiance without considering that some of their childhood friends have chosen paths which are incongruent with their own long-term plans and interests. Unfortunately, the result is frequently a regression to the least common denominator, slowing all involved students' progress toward their potential. The more we can teach students about personal accountability and understanding when certain behaviors are appropriate for time and place, the more we can ensure responsible decision-making and knowing when - and with whom - your peer relationships fit your current and future value structure.

The high school years have many layers and challenges. It is our hope that by maintaining the #PHSfit message, our kids will be better equipped to understand who they are and make decisions that are consistent with their own individual values, priorities, skills, talents, and interests.