For Broward County’s School Counseling and BRACE Advisement team, the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic reinforced the need to make helpful resources and information as easily accessible as possible for parents and students.
“When we moved everything to virtual in March, we really saw the importance of meeting students and their parents where they are,” said Carol Lopez, supervisor of Broward’s college, career & life readiness department.
In the process of adapting their supports due to the pandemic, the district has discovered more effective ways of engaging parents, as well as students.
One of those new resources is College and Career Corner Wednesdays, a weekly virtual webinar series where students and parents can receive information, resources, and actionable steps to prepare for success in life after high school.
The webinars take place every Wednesday from 6-7 p.m., in part, to allow parents and guardians who work during the day to attend live. Each session is recorded and available for viewing on demand.
“We meet with our students weekly, but we’re not always sure if the information is getting back to the parents,” Lopez said. “We really wanted to create something that was aimed at both.”
So far, topics during the webinar series — which launched in late September and is hosted by Broward County Public School Counseling and BRACE (Broward Advisors for Continuing Education) — include Bright Futures (Oct. 28), Career & Technical Pathways (Nov. 18), and Success Strategies for Immigrant Students (Dec. 9). The first webinar — a Sept. 30 presentation on Naviance — resulted in more than 300 parents and students logging on, and Lopez said there are College & Career Corner Wednesday presentations scheduled through March 2021.
Each webinar also concludes with a survey, which allows students and their families to share about their struggles with the college and career readiness process.
“The people who complete the survey tell us things like, ‘I want to learn more about career pathways…about scholarships,’” Lopez said. “We look at those survey responses and we really try to tailor what we do around the needs that our students and parents are sharing with us.”
Yvonne Green, a college and career readiness specialist for the district, said Broward’s counseling team works hard to stay attuned to the needs of the community, including the need to bolster FAFSA completion.
In late October, the district hosted four live, virtual sessions featuring step-by-step instructions on how to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).
“Typically, the schools do their own (FAFSA) events, but this year we had to think about what we, as a district, could do to support the schools,” said Green, who noted that Broward County Public Schools is the sixth-largest district in the nation.
Broward’s lagging FAFSA completion rate compared to its size is what inspired the live FAFSA nights this year.
Shedly Casseus, the virtual FAFSA project lead and one of FCAN’s 2019 College Ready Florida Innovators said, ‘We cannot be the sixth-largest district, but 35th in FAFSA completion nationwide.”
Last year, about 45% of Broward’s 16,000 seniors completed the FAFSA. The district estimates those who didn’t complete the federal form left $16 million in potential Pell Grant funds on the table.
That’s a big reason why Broward’s college and career readiness efforts included those live FAFSA nights towards the end of October. About 400 people attended the first virtual session, and that attendance figure more than doubled by the third session.
“The presenters went to the DoE (Department of Education) website to get the application and simulated different scenarios common to our students, including students who were in a one-parent household, or a separated-parent household,” said Berlyne Harris, a district support counselor in Broward. “It wasn’t just directing them to a website, it was about going through the application and going over many of the common problems that our students experience.”
Instrumental in the success of these outreach efforts was the support and partnership with community organizations through the region’s Broward Bridge 2 Life, their local college access network. B2L partners volunteered to support the live sessions including a co-lead facilitator from Florida Atlantic University and a team of about 30 moderators to address questions from parents and students and technical issues.
There was also a virtual room dedicated to Spanish-language queries and the district had personnel available to answer questions in Haitian Creole and Portuguese. “We really want them to know that language is not going to be a barrier,” Harris said.
With these virtual and evening sessions, the district has made it more convenient for parents to engage. B2L also provided incentives for students to participate.
“It’s shifting how we think about serving our students,” Green said.
The College and Career Corner webinars and the live FAFSA nights organized by the district are examples of what can be accomplished through ingenuity and community collaboration.
“Both of these experiences came together in a very short time, and you really need that entrepreneurial spirit in this climate,” Green said. “We also wanted to be gracious in removing potential barriers for parents and students by making every contact with us a good experience.”