Joshua Brunk acknowledges he’s not the most organized person in the world.
That’s one of the reasons Joshua — a senior at Lecanto High in Citrus County — is grateful for his school’s College and Career Center, which was introduced earlier this academic year.
“It’s really helped keep me focused, especially with deadlines and guidelines,” Joshua said of the new resource. “It also made it easy to ask for help with my college essays and interviews.”
Lecanto High’s College and Career Center, a converted computer lab on the school’s campus, allows students to receive support for their postsecondary plans during school hours.
Students seeking help at the center are directed to a Canvas page and asked to complete a questionnaire. That initial survey includes questions to help gauge the postsecondary readiness of Lecanto seniors. Each student, regardless of grade level, is also asked to declare whether they are interested in pursuing college or a vocational path.
“We want to give every kid some type of opportunity, and some kids are not going to go into college right away,” said Jason Koon, Lecanto High’s principal.
Although students can switch the path they’ve selected along the way, Koon noted that aligning career-minded students with their preferred vocation while they’re still in high school can also result in those same students eventually pursuing college after they learn about the degree requirements of their chosen field.
“We’re getting to showcase and support kids that we never thought wanted that type of help,” Koon said.
The center was spearheaded by Peter Rausch, who teaches A.P. World History, coaches football at Lecanto, and traces the origin of the program to 3 or 4 years ago. Through his work with football players and other Lecanto athletes, Rausch said he gained a lot of knowledge about the current college-going process.
“I spent a lot of time working with kids getting into college for athletics and finding the lesser-known roads of the NCAA and NAIA…I became somewhat of an expert on that,” Rausch said. “Word got out that I was able to help the kids in athletics get into college, and next thing you know there were AVID kids, IB kids, or other kids saying ‘I’m not playing a sport, but can you help?’”
Rausch’s calendar quickly filled up with students seeking help, revealing a strong demand for additional college and career readiness support at Lecanto.
“Our idea was how can we relieve, not replace, the pressure on our guidance department,” said Rausch, who also didn’t want to disrupt instructional time for students. “How were we going to serve 412 seniors, and 1,800 students, without interrupting a single class?”
The solution, it turns out, requires buy-in from a school administration willing to repurpose a computer lab and extend the school’s “Panther Hours” — a block of time on Thursday and Fridays that allowed students to engage in clubs, chats, and social activities at school — to allow them to visit the College and Career Center if they need support.
Rausch is especially proud that the center comes at no additional cost to Lecanto.
“The interesting thing about our program is that it costs $0,” he said. Canvas, for example, is Citrus County’s districtwide learning management system. “The administration has really done a great job of reallocating to get us what we need.”
The center is also powered by faculty and staff who volunteer time during school days to serve as mentors and help students with the postsecondary process.
“Teachers were in there scrubbing and painting walls, using carpet cleaners,” Rausch said. “I believe that investment leads to commitment, and when people believe something belongs to them, they’re more willing to fight for it and give to it.”
The center was similarly designed to get students like Joshua to invest in themselves. Students who visit the center and enroll in the program through Canvas receive messages about key deadlines and scholarships announcements directly on their phones. Account members who lie dormant too long have their account suspended and must message faculty to have it restored.
“The most important ingredient we had to create was a self-paced, self-driven advocacy for our students,” Rausch said. “Even if we had all 90 staff members on board, we do not have the ability to hold the hands of 1,800 kids, or even 412 seniors. We have to be able to put them on a path where they can monitor themselves.”
As of January, there were 605 active members out of about 800 who initially joined. That includes 173 students who have participated in a 1-on-1 mentoring session. Lecanto leadership also credits the College and Career Center for helping improve FAFSA completions by 7.6% through mid-March during a year when Florida has fallen from 32nd to 48th in FAFSA completions nationwide.
Although the center has proven to be a success so far, Rausch knows he and his fellow volunteers have to be just as hungry for knowledge as their students.
“If you try to put college and career readiness in cement, it won’t work,” he said. “We have to evolve along with whatever is out there, so we can better support our kids.”
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