Thursday, October 31, 2013

November update

Now that the first quarter has ended, let's check in on a few fronts.

Report cards will be distributed November 14. Please follow-up with questions about progress directly with teachers, as they are best suited to answer questions about academic progress.

November 16 will be this month's College Shirt Day, so mark your calendars!

November 18 through 22 is American Education Week. More information will be available on edline and

School counselors will meet with American Government classes from November 4 through 6 in the computer labs to complete a Career Cluster Assessment in Naviance and begin to evaluate the merits of careers in a cluster that they find appealing.
On November 26, school counselors will conduct an academic lesson in all of the Biology classes to help the freshmen understand how their quarter grades add up to final grades and how to calculate grade point averages. This is important for students to take ownership of their grades, since grades in high school are much more transparent, predictable, and permanent than in middle school.

Between November 5 and 14, school counselors will meet World History classes first in the computer lab, and then in their classrooms, to take a personality assessment in Naviance and discuss how our personality types help us make sense of the world and find careers that suit our preferences.

Between November 4 and 15, school counselors will meet with US History classes first in the computer lab, and then in their classrooms, to take a career interest assessment in Naviance and evaluate the many ways different individuals can find satisfaction in similar career types.
Starting November and ending around the second week in January, each junior will have a 30-minute appointment (either 1:30-2:00 or 2:00-2:30) with their school counselor. Students and families were informed of their appointments when schedules were mailed in July, and students will receive a reminder in advisory closer to their appointed time. Parents are invited, though not required, to attend. Juniors will get an unofficial copy of their transcript, discuss their college priorities and preferences, and school counselors will help the students start their prospective college lists in Naviance.

Thirty percent of our seniors have applied to college so far! We've even started hearing about college acceptances. The school counselors have been working very hard to honor our commitment to send out completed transcript requests within ten school days. Seniors should never hesitate to schedule appointments with their school counselors during the complicated and arduous process of college admissions. We are here to help, and happy to do so, but solutions are most readily available when concerns are raised earlier rather than later.
Once the applications are in and confirmed with the colleges, seniors are urged to turn their attention to finding and applying for scholarships. Tips are available from the "Paying for College" page on the blog, and we maintain the list of scholarships at the PHSCollegeCash document. Also, participate in the weekly #CollegeCash twitter chat for more suggestions.
Mark your calendar for December 12 at 7pm. We are hosting a MHEC Money for College event (their website inexplicably says 9; rest assured we're starting at 7, if not slightly earlier). Delegate Dana Stein will be on-hand to hear parents' perspectives on the financial aid process, MHEC's Benee Edwards will discuss the FAFSA and both federal and state financial aid programs, and Central Scholarship Bureau's Jennifer Bauer will prepare families for the scholarship application process.

About 10% of students have been asked to have their parent sign a permission slip for a video during one of the career lessons. Mr. Goldman is applying this year for certification by the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, and one component of the portfolio is a 15-minute video from a lesson that he will need to critique and send in. Questions should be directed to him about the use and privacy of the videos.

Panther Prep Day

 PHS seniors learn real world skills in Panther Prep Day
By Gregory Hill
Last Wednesday, while freshmen, sophomores and juniors took the College Board’s ReadiStep and PSAT assessments, seniors at Pikesville High School walked confidently in their finest suits and blouses as they engaged in Panther Prep Day to help the soon-to-be graduates prepare for career and college.
Students in six groups rotated every half hour among six stations.
At one station, students presented their resumes and participated in a mock interview with a variety of professionals, academics, and business owners, including Mathew Death, community outreach coordinator for the Baltimore Orioles, and Robert Sarnovsky, molecular biologist from the National Institute of Health.
“The interviews show first hand the importance of having a polished resume and being prepared for a job interview,” said David Kreller, PHS School to Career Coordinator who planned the event in conjunction with school counselor Erin Murphy.  “The fact that the students receive feedback can be invaluable in students’ lives as they prepare for life after high school.”
After the interviews, the professionals rated the students and provided them feedback on their resume and interviewing skills.
“I have never been interviewed before,” said senior Shannon Nichols.  “I was kind of nervous, but when I interviewed, I realized it was like a conversation.  I now have more confidence.”
In addition to interviewing, students also participated in a career fair featuring Armed Forces recruiters, trade schools, and local businesses to offer students career advice and options.
“I liked how it was authentic, and it was a new experience for me,” said senior Dylan Alexander.
A third session, led by First Financial Credit Union, aimed to teach students financial literacy, including the realities of college debt, credit cards, and spending money wisely.
“I like the financial workshop because I learned how to be responsible in college to avoid financial ruin,” said senior Bezankeng Njinju.
A fourth session, led by School Resource Officer Joseph Goralczyk, taught students personal safety and awareness.
“I liked the safety part because I know how to conduct myself to avoid situations that put me in harm’s way,” said Bezankeng.
The seminar from the Community College of Baltimore County featured an overview to college options for students.
Finally, Kelly Yousem, a medical malpractice lawyer, vegan chef, and expert in nutrition, taught the students how to eat and live healthfully.
“We thought that it was important for students to understand what healthy eating looks like.  It is very important to their well being, academically, physically, and socially,” said Mrs. Murphy.
Jeremy Goldman, school counseling department chair, reflected on the positive outcome from the Panther Prep Day event.  He shared, “for a day that is traditionally so focused on assessments, it was refreshing to give seniors this opportunity to do something different. Because of Panther Prep Day, all of the students at Pikesville High School were actively engaged in college and career readiness, and it elevated our students’ awareness of why school is so important.”

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

College Trailblazers

Do you represent the first generation in your family to attend college?
Did you know that there is an increasingly visible movement to advocate for students who are among the first in their family to attend - or graduate from - college?
There is even a hashtag devoted to supporting College Trailblazers - #firstgen.
There is also  documentary on the topic - First Generation.

So who are our College Trailblazers, or first generation college students?
With each passing month, the definition appears to acquiesce around a simple concept: First Generation college students are those students whose parents did not attend college. The idea of clearly defining and articulating who is included in this group is to break down barriers to higher education, since the process seems to grow more complex and challenging every year, although the new common app is trying to remedy that. There have historically been clear gaps in access to higher education, along racial, gender, and class lines, and when a student is the first in their family to apply to college, certain tasks that are necessary to the process become overwhelming, especially without parents who have been through it before.

Which is why we need to expand the definition beyond simply "students whose parents didn't attend college" to include:
  • Students whose parents didn't finish college - perhaps the parents weren't equipped with the proper infrastructure prior to college, and are possibly not informed enough to prepare their children for the multitude of developmental tasks critical for college completion.
  • Students whose "parents" may have attended or finished college, but are being raised by family members who didn't attend, or who even so far as completed colleges, but well over 40 years ago when the process was entirely different from how it works now.
  • Students who are under the care of institutional systems, and therefore whose adult supervision is often too inconsistent to give daily support and guidance throughout the process, not to mention the added challenge of needing to defer to bureaucracy when having forms co-signed and paying for things like transportation and college visits.
  • Students whose parents may have attended college, but did so in other countries, where the admissions process is entirely different - some international college admissions processes are as simple as using one test score to dictate whether - and where - a student attends college. The American system is so nuanced that it is often overwhelming to parents who emigrated to the United States. Add to that the "American Dream" of taking advantage of this newfound opportunity by giving one's child the chance to go to the "best" college in the "best" country in the world, and students are caught in a quagmire.
So what do all of these College Trailblazers have in common? Drive. Determination. The will to transcend their current situation, with the understanding that they need to work to do so, but often without the resources to help navigate. ...Right up until admissions counselors review the applications. Thankfully, school counselors and admissions committees are there to advocate for our College Trailblazers. These two groups of professionals understand the obstacles facing such an underrepresented group of students, and keep looking for ways to support them through the process.

So if you are a College Trailblazer or first generation student (by any definition), the first and most critical thing to do is to identify yourself accordingly. Meet with your school counselor and discuss the challenges you face. When you interact with admissions counselors on college visits or information sessions at school, ask them what their college does to support first generation college students. Find ways on your application and essay to remind them of how being #firstgen shapes both your dreams and your experiences chasing those dreams.

Then, follow these ten steps to college attendance, in their simplest form:

  1. Do your best in high school classes that suit both your interests and skills.
  2. Study for the SAT and ACT, and take each one at least once - register before the deadline in spring of junior year.
  3. Visit colleges in sophomore year to get a sense of what you like and dislike about college campuses, then meet with your school counselor to process those priorities.
  4. Meet with your school counselor during junior year to evaluate your transcript and make a plan for visiting college campuses that meet your priorities and academic needs.
  5. Prepare your essay during the summer prior to senior year.
  6. Apply to 4-8 colleges that you and your school counselor agree are a good fit for your interests and needs. "Apply" oversimplifies the process, but school counselors can help if you meet with them regularly.
  7. Ensure that your applications (including high school transcript, letters of recommendation, and SAT/ACT scores) arrive to the colleges to which you are applying arrive by the stated deadlines.
  8. In December, request your PIN from and do the same with whichever parent you have lived with for the majority of that calendar year.
  9. In January, complete the FAFSA at using your income and the income of the parent who requested their PIN as early in January as possible.
  10. Aid letters should go out by the end of March, and commit to the college of your choice by May 1 by sending your deposit.
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges through all this is the misconception that you are alone. Once you own your #firstgen status, you can begin to identify and associate with others who share your experience. Then, it's just a matter of finding mentors and peers who support you. No one is truly alone.

If you'd like to comment on being first generation, don't hesitate to tweet with the #firstgen and/or #PHSfit hashtag!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

October Update

with the exception of the 7% who were absent on certain days in the past two weeks...
Our student body has now activated their accounts at the Naviance Family Connection!
Through this portal, students can conduct college searches using many different criteria, save the colleges they are interested in and rank their interest level, and eventually request transcripts to be sent to those colleges. On the faculty side of the site, the school uses Naviance to submit transcripts and letters of recommendation to colleges where the students are applying.
One of the most popular uses of Naviance is the scattergram, which allows students to see how previous students from their high school have historically fared at popular colleges:

We will also use Naviance to help our ninth graders identify career clusters that are of interest to them, sophomores identify their Holland Career Interest Type, and juniors determine their Myers-Briggs Personality Type. Combining these three assessments helps individuals to get a clear picture of what occupational roles and tasks offer a suitable and gratifying fit for their futures.
As a special shout out, the following students have logged on more than their classmates and deserve recognition for investing their time in exploring their options for the rest of their lives:
12th grade: Kara S.
11th grade: Austin G. and Nicholas O.
10th grade: Parker B. and Ismail H.
9th grade: Waham A. and Jamie N.

With the activation of Family Connection accounts, this marks the second time that every one of our students has had contact with a school counselor, plus whatever personal, group, or lunch duty contact individual students may have had. Our goal is for students to have the chance to interact with school counselors in individual, group, and classroom settings more than ever before in the history of Pikesville High School.

Thanks to the support stemming from Twitter and the previous post, we were able to fund two iPads for the school counseling department. Students have used these iPads for SAT and ACT registration, assistance with Naviance, and have streamlined the school counselors' ability to make and log contact with students outside of the office. If you can, please contribute whatever amount you are able for the third iPad and complementary keyboard covers through DonorsChoose.

Now, for some announcements:
October 3 - college planning workshop, led by Loryn Strauzer, from the admissions office of Towson University. Mr. Goldman, assisted by Ms. Andrea Wilson (school counseling chair from Owings Mills High School), will inform parents about Naviance Family Connection and help parents activate their Naviance accounts.
The school counseling department will also hold its first-ever advisory council meeting, taking another step toward alignment with the ASCA National Model. We will have representative students, parents, community members, teachers, and college admissions counselors to provide feedback. If you would like to provide feedback on the program, please do so at

On October 16, all juniors, all sophomores, and about half of the freshmen will take the PSAT. Approximately 100 freshmen will take the ReadiStep assessment. Information was provided in English classes or directly from Mr. Goldman, and PSAT-takers were given practice test booklets so that they can prepare. The ReadiStep assessment is explicitly intended as an assessment for which students should not prepare or study.
The seniors will engage in a series of post-secondary readiness workshops. Financial planning, independent sustenance, career options, and of course mock interviews, are among the stations through which the seniors will cycle during the three-hour period when the underclassmen will be engaged in testing.
At approximately 11am, the school will resume its usual schedule beginning with mod 4 (fourth period or A lunch).

Plan to attend the NACAC Fall National College Fair on November 12 and 13 at the Baltimore Convention Center to interact with dozens of colleges and learn about the multitude of opportunities for students to find their post-secondary #PHSfit.

SENIORS and their deadlines
Now that seniors have activated their Naviance Family Connection accounts, it is crucial that they use the site regularly to get comfortable with it. While the process is posted in other places, it won't hurt to list here as well:

  1. Seniors need to submit the transcript release form, signed by parent/guardian, to the school counseling secretary. This is necessary for us to have permission to send the transcript, and Ms. Billingslea can then unlock the ability for students to request transcripts.
  2. For those who are applying using, they need to complete the Education portion (denoted with a green check), add a college to their list on CommonApp, and click on "Assign Recommenders." Read, complete, and sign the FERPA agreement. In Family Connection, type the email address that is used for the Common App account and click "MATCH."
  3. In Naviance Family Connection, add colleges to the "Colleges I'm applying to" list, and add transcript requests for each of those schools. Make sure that every common app school is included.
  4. Provide $2 for each destination to the school counseling secretary, either in cash or a check made out to Pikesville High School. 
  5. For those who need letters of recommendation (which is true for all common app schools), complete and submit the "School Counselor Recommendation request" survey, located in the "About Me" tab in Family Connection.

Once steps 1-4 (and 5, if applicable) are complete, requested documents will be sent within TEN SCHOOL DAYS. You can monitor the progress from your family connection account.
Teachers also have the ability to submit letters of recommendation through Naviance Family Connection. You should always discuss your requests with them personally, but you will need to add them in the "Colleges I'm Applying To" list with a pull-down menu to select the 1-2 teachers from whom you are requesting letters of recommendation.
Please keep your list up-to-date, so that you are able to meet (or beat!) deadlines.
Once you receive admissions decisions, please bring a copy to the school counseling office so that we can track our students' success rates at the colleges to which they apply.

As always, please feel comfortable coming in to schedule appointments with your school counselor. We are here to help.