Creating a culture of achievement in Fort Worth
- November 30, 2018
Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD) ‒ Texas’ sixth largest ‒ has an ambitious mission: To prepare ALL students for success in college, career and community leadership.
With approximately 86,000 students in 83 elementary schools, 29 middle schools and 6th grade centers, 18 high schools and 16 other campuses, that’s a tall order.
But Tonni Grant, Coordinator of FWISD Academic Advisement Department, says they have a not-so-secret weapon that’s helping them achieve their goal, bit by bit.
“Everything that we stand for is embedded in Xello. The exposure it gives our students to colleges, careers and the real working world is directly aligned to our mission,” she said.
“Hands-on lessons give our students an opportunity to explore and learn more about the things they enjoy and are passionate about. This leads to them making better decisions and becoming leaders in their fields of study.”
FWISD has been working with Xello since 2015. In the past year alone the district has seen a 137% increase in the number of students engaged in its college, career and military readiness (CCMR) planning programs.
What’s their secret? Read on to find out some of the ways FWISD educators and students are working together to meet their future readiness mission, and in many cases go beyond.
Helping Students Get a Head Start on Their Future
FWISD offers a “programs of choice” system, meaning students select which high school to attend based on academic and career interests. FWISD uses Xello to support this program in a variety of ways. Starting in middle school Xello’s career matchmaker, learning style and personality quizzes help students explore and identify what they love, what they’re good at, and how their skills could connect to a career down the road. With a better understanding of their interests, students can more easily decide what areas of study to pursue as they transition to high school and beyond.
For students in FWISD, establishing areas and programs of focus early has had a huge impact. It’s increased attendance and graduation rates. But beyond that, some students are even earning certifications and licensures while still in high school. This gives them a jumpstart on post-secondary careers and a leg up in an increasingly competitive labour market.
As Grant explains, “this early [learning] process has a profound impact on students and families.” Because it provides them more certainty of the right path forward, there is less indecision on post-secondary choices, and a greater chance of making the right decision the first time, particularly with college choices.”
Ensuring students understand post-secondary choices earlier also helped FWISD align more easily to new state graduation requirements. The new program rolled out in 2015 requires students obtain an endorsement (the high school equivalent of a college major), in addition to earning core curriculum credits. The endorsement must cover one or more of the following five areas:
- Business and Industry
- Public Service
- Arts and Humanities
- Multidisciplinary Studies
This change was undertaken to give graduates an edge when vying for increasingly competitive college and career opportunities. But aligning to the new graduation requirements meant some adaptive thinking on the part of school districts. Grant says the work students do in Xello to identify interests and hone skills early has helped better prepare students to choose, and achieve, their endorsement. “It helps them be more certain of their graduation path—and where they fall in the greater scheme of things.”
Equitable and Personalized Learning
According to Grant, FWISD is comprised of a wide range of learners all with different challenges, including:
- 78% economically disadvantaged
- 30% bilingual/ESL
- 31% English language learners
- More than 85% students of color
With diverse demographics like these, it’s a tall order to provide a college and career readiness program that works equitably for everyone. But by leveraging an online career planning program like Xello -- one that’s highly accessible and whose content celebrates the diversity of the students it aims to serve -- FWISD has made huge strides towards ensuring equal outcomes.
Key features of FWISD’s CCMR program include:
- Opportunities for all students to explore multiple pathways
- Highly customizable, shareable digital workspaces (profiles) where students can record and reflect on their accomplishments, challenges and goals
- Career profiles that reflect gender and ethnic diversity, so all students can see themselves in a future job
- Available in English and Spanish so students can work and share in the language they're most comfortable with
- A course planning and selection tool that makes it easy for students and educators alike to ensure everyone has a plan and is on track for graduation
- A user interface that meets WCAG 2.0 (Level AA) standards with full keyboard, screen reader, and low vision accessibility
- Available with lightning-fast performance any time on any device, in the classroom or on the go
“The beauty of using Xello for our CCMR program ” says Grant, is “its ability to engage any student at any stage, regardless of whether they have career goals in mind or need help to get there. It ensures every student has the tools and resources to create a vision of their successful future, and a plan to achieve it.”
“All students, regardless of background, have an opportunity to see the same things. It does not matter whether the student is at-risk or a high achiever. The program we’ve enabled with Xello provides something for everyone. It is a one-stop shop that makes achieving students’ dreams fun and engaging, and all without tasking educators with more work.”
Parent Engagement Makes an Impact
Janet Gonzales is a College and Career Readiness Coach at FWISD’s Trimble Tech High School. She’s only been at Trimble Tech for a few months, but is already blown away by the impact Xello has on her students—and their families.
At Trimble, students can sign out Chromebooks to work on Xello at home. Gonzales says she encourages her students to show their parents their profiles and talk it over with them. “My personal goal is to eventually have all parents become familiar with the program,” she said.
“I think it’s important, especially in the Hispanic community, because a lot of parents are concerned about their children’s future but don’t feel they have the tools or know-how to help them,” says Gonzales.
The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends that schools strive to maintain a 250:1 student-to-counselor ratio. But with ratios as high as 450:1 in some Texas districts involving parents is crucial to helping all students consider the variety of options available for their futures. Since FWISD’s program is available in Spanish, language isn’t a barrier to getting more parents involved.
Greater parental involvement means children have a whole community of support and everyone on the same page. Gonzales has already had feedback from parents who are thrilled to be able to support their children in their college and career readiness plans.
Gonzales recalls a mother of an 11th grader who came to her with concerns about her son. She’d observed that he appeared to be losing interest in the architectural learning path he’d chosen some years before (Trimble Tech offers programs of choice) and asked if Gonzales could offer him some direction.
“I reached out to him and provided a light introduction to Xello, which is really intuitive and doesn’t require much, if any, hand-holding,” said Gonzales. “And after going through just a few activities he completely lit up. Before her eyes he became aware that there were more career options for him than he realized. It’s like a cloud had lifted. He felt motivated and focused again.”
Engage Students and Boost Counselor Productivity
There will always be students who are less engaged and more uncertain about what their futures hold. Gonzales says it’s like some students have already written off the idea that there’s anywhere for them to go after high school. With a program like Xello, Gonzales says that’s when she can reply by saying: "Do you know what kind of work interests you; what you’re good at doing; what your skills are?" They look at me, puzzled, and I tell them, "there are some amazing quizzes in Xello that will help you discover these things for yourself."
“I try to take them down a different path to get them interested in exploring. Some students come back and tell me about careers they’d never heard of and are now interested in.”
She says it’s incredibly rewarding to hear them talk amongst themselves as they work their way through Xello. Often she assigns students fun little career research projects in Xello asking them to report back on things like:
- How much particular jobs pay?
- A description of what the day-to-day experience is like?
- The courses you need to take to qualify for particular jobs
Lots of kids are so interested that they come back and ask to look up more careers.
And because of all the reflective elements in Xello -- like the ability to comment on lesson and activity outcomes as well as any content they share -- when it comes to one-on-one consultations with students, Gonzales says the conversations are infinitely more productive. We can look at their profile together, discuss their interests, ideas and career paths and begin to make a real plan, one that matters to each student.
Both Grant and Gonzales acknowledge that Xello plays a key role in helping FWISD accomplish their mission. And both anticipate long-lasting benefits that will extend well beyond high school for most students.
According to Grant, “if there’s a student that wants to know more about themselves, and what they want to do when they leave high school, Xello definitely helps us help them find it. And even when they don’t yet know (especially then) Xello is an indispensable tool for unlocking each student's natural curiosity and leading them on a path to discovery and a plan for their future.”