Whitefish High School emphasizing career, college readiness

by WHITNEY ENGLAND
Reporter | December 30, 2020 1:00 AM

In recent years Whitefish High School administrators and staff have worked to continually expand the school’s College and Career Readiness program.

The counseling team has had its hands full this year with the ever increasing demands on counselors, and Whitefish High School Principal Kerry Drown said he is grateful the district added another position, bringing on a third counselor last spring.

“At the high school, watching the growing responsibilities of counselors over time, they have all of these academic responsibilities of coaching, advising, and scheduling students, testing with ACT facilitation and the PSAT,” he said. “Throw on top of that the social-emotional needs and support they provide individual students and small groups of students… then there’s this other facet called college and career planning.”

“And then with the demands this year put on our counseling staff, we’re so thankful that we have that third member on our team,” he added.

Counselor Ross Lingle joined the counseling team to assist in various aspects of high school counseling, but mainly to head up the College and Career Readiness initiative. The two other counselors at the high school, Barb Mansfield and Tina Corwin, have also been actively managing academic and social-emotional issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite the extra challenges created by Covid, Drown said Lingle has jumped right into helping students with post high school planning.

During a recent school board meeting, Lingle explained various aspects of what the high school currently offers students planning for the future and ways the school is looking to expand the program.

The school has a class called College and Career Readiness that is mandatory for all sophomores. In the class students learn about themselves, interests, work on resumes and interview skills and several other topics to help them lead productive lives.

“I think that’s just an outstanding course,” said Lingle, who teaches two periods of the class.

Another way the school is preparing students for life after high school is through an online platform called Naviance which helps equip students with tools for either college or a career, and provides data so staff can understand students’ strengths and needs.

Lingle is also helping to organize ACT prep courses and works with FVCC to continue the Running Start program that gives students an opportunity to earn college credits by taking courses at FVCC.

“It’s just another addition to the AP program getting students college credit, challenging our students and trying to raise that bar across the board,” he said of the program.

Especially in the times of COVID and hybrid in-person and online schooling, communication has been key for schools to stay connected to students. Because of this Lingle designed a “Counselor Connection” newsletter for both the junior and senior classes that gives information about upcoming scholarships or opportunities. He would like to expand the letter and design one for underclassmen as well.

“There’s been a lot of challenges so I think the communication aspect has been a huge benefit to families,” Lingle said.

Other ideas for expansion of the college and career readiness initiative include further extended use of the Naviance program; it has the ability to track what colleges students are applying to and provide more data to assist curriculum development, according to Lingle. In addition he wants to look into providing another class as an advanced college and career planning course for juniors.

Lingle says he wants to create a database of alumni from different colleges that would be willing to share their experience with students, and on that same note, provide a database of professionals in the community that would be willing to share about their career for the students who aren’t interested in college.

The counselor is working with teachers and community members on organizing a career fair to be held at WHS and also the possibility of a “jobs club,” that could provide students with hands-on experience in different fields.

Lingle is striving to provide equal assistance to students regardless of whether they want to attend college, take a gap year, or go straight into a career.

“I’m a firm believer in the technical skills, technical knowledge and that you can have a great career without college,” Lingle said. “There are so many options for our students here, so I’m super excited about it and I think the community has a ton of resources to bring to the students.”

The high school’s staff is also preparing to deal with the effect from COVID-19.

Lingle says that as students navigate through the challenges caused by the pandemic, colleges are also altering their admissions process. Almost all colleges are “test optional” this year, meaning students are not required to have an ACT or SAT score for admission purposes.

“I think this year nationwide we’re going to see graduation rates dip because of COVID, we’re going to see grades dip because of COVID, college admissions will drop or be deferred for another year, and then I think there is going to be a COVID effect on all kinds of things,” Lingle said.

Despite these challenges, Lingle said the counseling team, teachers and the administration at the high school are attempting to catch students up in their classes, prepare them for post high school life and meet as many social-emotional needs as possible.

“We do recognize that it is just a really tough time,” he said. “It’s going to take that type of compassion from our staff to work with each student.”