College Signing Day was on May 7, and graduation is around the corner. In this critical transition period between the conclusion of secondary school and the beginning of students’ postsecondary journeys, we talked to career educator Metro Atlanta caring teacher Melissa Edwards. Ms. Edwards leads the OneGoal Fellow cohort at North Atlanta High School as their Program Director.
What do you like about working with students on their postsecondary advising journey through OneGoal?
I have children, and I believe it takes a village. It’s not just parents. It’s not just caring teachers. It takes everybody. What makes me happy is helping others. So seeing a light bulb go off when a student understands who they are, their worth and encouraging them—that makes me happy. It honestly doesn’t even feel like a job. This is what I’m privileged to do.
As a caring teacher with over 30 years of experience in the classroom, what is your sense of how postsecondary advising in schools generally goes? Do you feel like enough attention is given to students who are planning to continue their education after high school?
Every junior and senior in every school needs more rigorous postsecondary advising provided by a caring teacher. The majority of students lack the guidance and attention they need to be able to discover their pathway. When OneGoal came to my school, I thought, ‘Finally! This is what we’ve needed!’ I don’t know how else to say it—every school in this country would benefit greatly from incorporating OneGoal into their students’ class schedules.
One pattern we’ve noticed is that OneGoal Fellows tend to share their postsecondary advising knowledge with their peers who are not enrolled in the OneGoal class at their school. Is that something you’ve seen?
Absolutely! I see that a lot. I see a lot of passion too, especially once that plan they have worked toward starts falling into place. And I think these messages they are learning through OneGoal can be really powerful coming from a peer. You emulate the good you see in others. I don’t care what anyone says; we have a deep desire to emulate success. So when you see students who are helping others, I’m like ‘Oh, that made me feel good!’
What are some of the hidden barriers you’re seeing in front of Fellows?
It’s gotten worse, and the pandemic has not helped. Do they get enough sleep? No. Do they eat breakfast? No. Do they have enough energy? No. Are they getting too much screen time on their devices? Absolutely. So that’s when I get into mindfulness. You are about to enter adulthood. You have to get the proper rest, you have to eat properly, and you have to put the phone down and focus. All of this comes into play, and I don’t mince words. When my Fellows don’t know what to do, well, that’s where I come in. We talk about it.
As Fellows are making their final decision about their postsecondary pathway, what are the main two or three things they need to be thinking about?
I encourage them to reflect on what they have learned in their OneGoal class up to this point. We did a best-fit match, meaning we look at the student as an individual, and we help them understand who they are, what their weaknesses and strengths are. So they should stand confident in the path they have chosen for themselves. Now is the time to be applying for scholarships, but pay close attention to the requirements. Is there a GPA requirement? Can you maintain that GPA or meet the other requirements? Read the fine print! Lastly, do the math on your financial situation. Do you need to work while you’re in school to survive? Take a look at that class schedule and figure out when you have free time to take on some hours at your job.
Do you have any Year Two Fellows who are undecided about their postsecondary pathway? If so, what are some of the reasons why they might still be on the fence, and what are some of your techniques to push them past those hurdles?
The first question from any caring teacher should be ‘why?’ Why are they in that position of being undecided? Sometimes it’s insecurity. Other times it’s how am I going to pay for this? Am I ready to possibly move out of my family home to take this big step? My job as their teacher is to offer them encouragement and support. And it sounds simple, but it goes such a long way. So I tell them to work with me! You’re feeling uncertain? Ok, let’s work it out! We’ll get there! You’re not leaving my classroom without a plan, right? That’s what they need to hear, and that’s what’s going to happen.
The time between senior year and the first term of postsecondary is sometimes referred to as “Summer Melt” – where 10-20 percent of students lose steam and ultimately postpone or cancel their postsecondary aspirations. How can students stay motivated to follow through on their plans, and what kinds of support do they need from adults and mentors?
I helped my high school graduating students before they went to college to enter their freshman year. It was during the pandemic, and boy, I was on the phone constantly. Midnight, one o’clock in the morning. But I told them, you have a question? No problem. Just call me. Text me. Email me—whatever you need to do. They need to know that they have the support of a caring teacher because oftentimes they can’t do without it. I was their cheerleader. I encouraged them. I helped them. And if I couldn’t help them, I had my director reach out to them. And that’s what it takes; a big support system. I remind my Fellows this service that OneGoal provides is amazing, and you need to take advantage of every bit of it.
What are the OneGoal Year Two Fellows experiencing right now? Excitement? Fear? Anxiety?
All of it! There is some uncertainty. They’re excited, but this is when I see the anxiety come in. They are Generation Z. They don’t want to be in a box. They don’t want to go to college just to work a nine-to-five. Who does that? Gen-Z’s don’t think like that. They think outside the box. This crop of students is ready to explore! The pandemic brought their lives to a standstill. So they are looking for opportunities that tap into their passion. They have an entrepreneurial mindset, and it’s exciting for me to see.
What final advice do you have for your graduating Year Two Fellows?
I started by saying it takes a village. Well, this village wants you, the Fellows, to grow. Reflect on all you have seen, understood, and learned. Over the past two years together, we identified your strengths, and you know the areas you need to work on too. And don’t underestimate the power of marginal adjustments. Nothing happens overnight, and transformational change doesn’t usually happen in an instant. Life just doesn’t work that way. But by focusing on small, marginal adjustments, you will surprise yourself by what you’ll accomplish. And take advantage of every opportunity.