"We have kids who graduate from high school with no plans," says Mary Kay Babyak, director of initiatives for The Consortium for Public Education
in McKeesport. "They wake up the day after graduation with no idea what they are going to do," or with incomplete, or completely unrealistic, plans. "We found that a lot of kids didn't know that their grades counted. They'd get to junior/senior years and they hadn't taken the right courses. And they hadn't had adult support along the way."
Getting a C- in science in your junior year is bad enough if you're a kid hoping for a career in medicine, she notes. Rather than thinking, at that point, "What else can I do with my life?" wouldn't it be better if, as a freshman, this student had been coached to ask, "How am I going to change my study habits so I can achieve what I want?"
To help kids create a smart plan for college and/or career attainment, the Consortium has just unveiled a new program called MAPS (My Action Plan for Success) being piloted this school year by eight local school districts.
Through MAPS, says Babyak, students will be able to create a viable post-secondary plan. MAPS connects each student with adult mentors -- teachers, guidance counselors, school administrators and of course their own family members -- who help devise a realistic and achievable course of action. And it introduces planning software -- eMAPS -- that helps kids lay out the various facets of their plans: How do my skills fit my college and career plans? How about my clubs? My community activities? What specific efforts do I need to make to get better results?
Babyak witnessed several students speaking to their schools' Freshman Academy recently. One of the kids hoped to be a surgeon. Only after using MAPS, she says, had he realized it would be useful to look at specific colleges' entrance requirements so that he could know what to take in high school. Plus, he hadn't before realized that his extra-curricular activity -- drawing -- could be anything other than a hobby. She recalls him commenting, "'I didn't really think about some of those things, beyond listing them on my college application. I didn't think, what am I learning from them?'"
After the pilot program, MAPS will be refined and expanded over the following four years.
"The dropout rate of four-year colleges is even higher than the failure-to-matriculate rate in high schools," says Consortium spokesperson Pamela Gaynor. MAPS, she says, will "potentially help kids have a sound enough plan that they won't need remediation on a subject in college. It's about saying, 'How do I get there? What do I need to do?'"
Babyak laughs at the memory of her own daughter, who switched college majors after she had already completed three years of another program. "I wish my daughter had had this eight years ago," Babyak says. "It would have saved $100,000."
Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Mary Kay Babyak, Pamela Gaynor, the Consortium for Public Education