HANFORD — Earlier in the school year, high schools in the state received a college readiness block grant, and Hanford Joint Union High School District has developed new programs with the money to ensure students are ready for college when they leave Hanford area high schools.
The California Department of Education released a statement late last year that nearly 1,000 local educational agencies, including school districts, county offices of education and charter schools received about $100 million in grants to help students prepare to attend college.
The grants were established to increase the number of students who enroll in institutions of higher education and complete an undergraduate degree in four years. Bobby Peters, director of educational services at HJUHSD said the district received about $385,000.
Among other things, the funds can be used to pay:
- advanced placement and international baccalaureate examination fees;
- develop or purchase materials that support college readiness, including college entrance exam preparation; counseling services for students;
- expand access to coursework or other opportunities to satisfy A-G course requirements;
- send teachers, counselors and administrators to professional development opportunities related to college readiness.
Peters said the three high schools in the district – Hanford High School, Hanford West High School and Sierra Pacific High School – held a college readiness night in which students learned how to plan from freshman year to senior year to make sure they are ready for college or work after they graduate.
“Part of our plan is not only preparing students to get into that university if they want to, but also to get into the job that they want to,” Peters said.
Hanford High School counselor Sarah Hess said career and college readiness has always been an important part of the school’s overall counseling program, but the college readiness block grant has given the district the opportunity to improve upon this program and provide more resources to students.
“Our goal is for all of our students to graduate with a well-thought-out plan for post-secondary education,” Hess said.
Along with the college and career readiness night — which Hess said the district will do again next year — the district partnered with the California College Guidance Initiative, which is an organization that manages the website, californiacolleges.edu.
Hess said that website is an excellent resource to provide technological tools to students, parents and counselors that will help guide the college and career planning process. She said the website provides opportunities to research colleges, majors, careers, as well as providing resources on topics like financial aid and admissions testing.
As a counselor, Hess said she sees multiple benefits to students having concrete goals for their education beyond high school because students who are well informed about their career options when they enter college can spend less time and money accomplishing their educational goals.
“Students who have a plan are more likely to put effort into their education during high school,” Hess said. “They are also more likely to go on to higher education and graduate with a degree within four years.”
Peters said the college and career readiness night informed students and parents about what A-G requirements are, why students should take advanced placement courses and what SAT scores mean. In fact, the district has started providing free SAT tutoring to all juniors in the district.
The SATs are tests most students need to take in order to apply for most colleges. Peters said the test is extremely important because it is an equalization test for students because grades are not always a reliable factor when colleges are looking for eligible students.
Peters said the district has hired a company, Horizon Test Prep, to train teachers so they can provide the free SAT tutoring to junior students in the district who want or need the help. He said he is most excited about this program because it’s already difficult to fit SAT preparation into an already packed curriculum, and this helps with that problem.
“I’ve been in our district for 15 years and it’s something we’ve never done,” Peters said. “This is a really neat way for us to help the students in our community.”
As far as the SAT tutoring goes, Hess said college entrance testing is such an important part of college admissions, and students often struggle with how to prepare. In the past students either had to use self-guided resources online, or spend a lot of money to take a private course.
Hess said students are provided with materials free of charge and complete approximately 18 hours of instruction leading up to the actual SAT test date. The students meet twice a week with a trained district teacher who uses the Horizon Test Prep curriculum.
Hess said the first group of students currently enrolled in the course is preparing for the June SAT test date, and the school will be offering multiple classes next school year as well. She said she’s excited to have that resource open to all students on site and free of charge, and she encourages students to sign up next year and take full advantage of the opportunity.
Kristen Snyder, a counselor at Sierra Pacific High School, reiterated everything Hess said and added that there are many other events and activities planned for the future, including college tours and upgrading technology in the career centers to help students with up-to-date resources.
“We want graduates to have an idea of who they are and where they are going,” Snyder said. “We want to prepare them by giving them a chance to explore and research college and career interests to help them make informed choices about their future.”