North Texas students are graduating with a plan

08/17/2014 2:56 PM

08/17/2014 2:58 PM

Parents of incoming high school freshman need to get used to hearing the word “endorsement,” and if they haven’t heard about it by now, they haven’t done their homework.

The Class of 2018 will be the first to graduate under new requirements aimed at better preparing Texas students for college, technical school or the workforce.

The Arlington district alone spent $1.1 million hiring 18 counselors to help students plan for graduation under the new requirements imposed by House Bill 5. The Birdville school district added a graduation coach position to work with all three of its high schools and Mansfield hired five counselors.

“Everyone had the concern over their recruitment,” Arlington school board president Bowie Hogg said of the competitive market for counselors.

“Our human resources department said they were going to be able to do it and they did,” he added. “Now we want to make sure they are focusing on their counseling duties.”

Arlington has 145 counselors in all.

Arlington counselors been helping students since January, district officials said.

Most incoming freshmen started including endorsements in their high school graduation plans last spring, under the new Foundation High School Program. Counselors and educators worked with them while they were still eighth-graders.

“Our counselors did a good job in providing education nights on House Bill 5 and graduation requirements,” said Mark Thomas, spokesman for Birdville schools, adding, “if you don’t understand, ask your school counselor.”

Each incoming freshman must select an endorsement and counselors are required to review graduation plans with eighth-graders and their parents/guardians. Before the end of freshman year, students and their parents/guardians must confirm the plan in writing. HB 5 also lets students switch their endorsements at any time.

Freshmen this month are reminded of graduation plans as they pick up class schedules, attend freshmen orientation or meet with counselors before school starts.

Graduating under a new plan

The point of the new requirements is to offer greater flexibility preparing for work or college. The endorsements are similar to major areas of study in college.

Students earn them by selecting electives and coursework under one of five areas — business/industry, public services, arts/humanities, multidisciplinary studies and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).

Clark said parents need to talk to their children about their study interests and make sure they understand how endorsements fit into graduation plans.

Efforts to get freshmen ready for high school requirements and endorsements started in middle school. Many districts will build on those efforts by offering more middle school classes that allow students to research possible careers and grasp the idea of endorsements.

Area school leaders said they are confident most incoming freshmen are aware of the changes.

Jennifer Castrillo, a counselor at Mansfield High school, said the district had parent meetings in the spring to explain the changes. The district also created a video that offered a snapshot of the changes. Counselors met with last year’s eighth-grade students one on one to talk about endorsements.

“All of our students have identified endorsements,” Castrillo said, adding students at the very least have heard about the changes.

“They are at least aware,” she said. “They may not know the depth of it.”

There will be meetings in the fall to further discuss graduation plans with ninth-grade students, Castrillo said.

Parental role

Clark said parents need to stay informed and engaged.

“You have to know where all this is going and where you are in the learning progression,” Clark said. “We are going to make absolutely sure that we do our part.”

School districts have PowerPoint presentations, reading materials and videos to inform parents and students about the new graduation plans. In the Arlington school district, the information is online in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.

Parents and students need to start thinking in middle school about careers and whether college is in the plan. Students who don’t have a grasp on the new requirements could end up with some issues, Clark said.

For example, there is some room for students to change their minds about their endorsement, but too much switching around could result in a student falling short of required credits.

“They need to make sure they are meeting the graduation requirements,” Clark said.

School counselors said the endorsements help students focus on career or trade ambitions throughout high school. In many ways, the new guidelines take some of the old vocational training ideas and drop them into modern school programs.

Staff writer Monica Nagy contributed to this report.

This report contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.

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