For students at Southington and Cheshire High Schools, the focus on their career paths after school is a highlight now more than ever. As both districts take on a block scheduling model, administrators are poised to put a high emphasis on preparing students for that environment and informing them of different career pathways.
In Southington, the emphasis is heightened with the plan to shift to block scheduling next semester. This new format is more akin to a college schedule, with longer periods alternating between different classes every other day. This change breaks courses up into career pathways, allowing students to take more courses and electives that enable them to explore their interests while also giving them the required number of credits to graduate.
Cheshire High School has implemented the block scheduling model for the past three years, and surveys of the student population found a strong resonance that they’re moving in the right direction. Teachers have enjoyed the shift too. Giving them more class time allows them to spend more time with students and delve into a subject more. Gaps between classes every other day also allows for more thought-out and robust lesson plans for each course.
“Our students really liked having that day off from a class so they could do their homework or meet with a teacher and have that time to do a little bit more independent work on their own to prepare themselves for class the following day. We’re sticking with it as it seems to be a good model for our students at this point in time,” said Michelle Catucci, the counseling department chair for Cheshire schools.
To match the changes in the scheduling format, there have been many recent approvals of new course curricula for classes in the Southington schools, which cover a variety of niche and specialized subjects. Yet, even before the shift to block scheduling, counselors in Southington placed emphasis on meeting with all students at least twice to discuss their post-college plans. With many first-generation pros-pective college students, the district is attempting to give as many resources as possible for success.
Cheshire has a similar format, only with smaller group sessions during every grade level with teens for career exploration and other post-secondary options.
“We help all students at any level that they’re at,” Southington School Counseling Director Jennifer Discenza said. She and her staff are hopeful the shift towards block scheduling will also facilitate deeper conversations with students and spark their interest in different career paths they might not have considered before.
“We’re hoping it sparks interest in students if they have an idea of what they may want to do, it would spark an interest for them to explore that pathway. We have lots of kids that come down and they don’t necessarily know what they want to do when they’re planning their post-secondary options,” Discenza said.
Discussions with students have begun to shift outside of what courses they will be taking or what schools they’ll attend, as the pandemic caused several universities to begin to shift their strategies around admissions such as de-emphasizing standardized test scores like the SAT.
To adjust to the change, counselors must work on a case-by-case basis, since there is no uniform policy around how SAT scores are handled between universities. Still, they highly encourage students to take them since, in many cases, scholarship funding and additional opportunities remained tied to how well they perform on the tests.
Still, some students now are writing essays and assembling portfolios of their work to present to colleges in lieu of SATs.
“I personally love that it forced the colleges to look at things a different way. I felt for some kids especially that struggled with test taking, that that was a hiccup for them in the process, that the stakes of one test determining if they were going to get into a school or not was very stressful for some students. So it’s nice that colleges were forced to find other ways to evaluate candidates,” Catucci said. “Honestly, it’s a really rewarding experience to work with students and families on this. It’s exciting to find out what kids want to do next and how we can help them get there.”
To that end, both districts have been hosting college fairs with representatives from schools locally, across the state, and nationwide. Building and maintaining the relationships between universities and their representatives is important, counselors say, as it allows them to better expose their students to more options and get to talk one-on-one with the representatives rather than just consulting pages online.
Though both districts have begun to reinvent their way of approaching admissions and conversations with students, the counselors note that their commitment to helping them explore their options remains strong.
“I hope that they know that we are always there for them and our door is always open to answer any questions that they have or any concerns,” said Discenza. “We have kids that come in multiple times to go through the whole process and we're happy to help them. My staff here is very highly qualified.”