This is how we can deliver for Delaware's high school seniors | Opinion

Ensuring Delaware’s diverse high school seniors are prepared for the next step requires effort from the private sector, state government and Delaware’s community organizations. This is why the Success for Our Seniors initiative offers an individually tailored approach for each student to better prepare First State seniors for the next stages in their lives.

United Way of Delaware, the Delaware Workforce Development Board and the Capital School District are working together to implement the first pilot of SOS in Dover High School. The initiative is designed to help each senior identify the path they intend to take upon graduation. Based on that path, SOS provides actionable opportunities and resources to help graduates turn goals into realities. SOS is not intended to replace the critical services provided by school counselors, but is instead designed to connect students with information, uncover obstacles, and strengthen family support as needed. Importantly, SOS is not a “one size fits all” approach; it recognizes Delaware has a varied student population. The goal is to “ensure every high school senior in Delaware has exactly what they need to graduate with their path clear for success, one that is customized to their unique interests, needs, and life.”

We are privileged to be part of this effort and excited to share updates from theDover pilot and our plans across the state. Among the several hundred responses to an initial survey of the senior class, we found that approximately half planned to attend college — either a two-year or four-year program — with the other half fairly evenly distributed between entering the workforce, joining a training/apprenticeship program, enlisting in the military, starting a small business, or still contemplating their path ahead. The students’ self-described levels of preparedness tell an interesting story, with many of those planning to attend college not yet having applied (as of November of their senior year), and most of those planning on apprentice programs or trade schools not yet having lined up those positions. Of those planning to join the workforce after graduation, only a quarter had a job lined up.

While many students are well-prepared for their post-graduation goals, many are not. The logic behind SOS is that it recognizes that the guidance each student needs is unique to that student. SOS will help ensure that seniors have a post-high-school path and will provide the structure and guidance to move students along that path. The SOS process is designed to provide specific actionable steps based on the student’s chosen path and will include checklists, detailed information sessions, connections to resources, and 1:1 guidance where needed.

As a brief illustration of our approach, students planning to enter the workforce upon graduation will receive Delaware Workforce Development Board resources such as post-secondary occupational skills training, interview coaching, help with resume preparation, a crash course on budgeting and other money management fundamentals, and help in developing and maintaining connections with businesses that are hiring in their communities. Those entering college will benefit from assistance with the intricacies of the application, financial aid and scholarship processes. and leverage the United Way’s Stand By Me NexGen financial coaching program. Those with an entrepreneurial focus will have access to coaching in how to start a business, and insight from entrepreneurs who have gone before them. Significantly, SOS is not a one-and-done initiative. The program will eventually include a network for graduates to turn to when facing new decisions and roadblocks

Just as our approach recognizes differences between individual students, it also recognizes distinctions across the state. SOS will be adapted and adjusted as we continue to learn what works best. The SOS approach also recognizes demographic differences among student populations and will structure its rollout with these in mind.

Students and their families are not the only ones benefitting from these efforts. Delaware employers face a shortage of job seekers and SOS works to better focus the more than 8,500 individuals who graduate from Delaware high schools each year to help reduce that gap.

The goal of SOS is to help high school seniors enjoy a more fulfilling future by providing individualized guidance that identifies an optimal path for success, arming graduates with the optimal tools to pursue their goals and contributing to Delaware’s, and our nation’s, future.

Nello M. Paoli Jr. is chair of the Youth Committee of the Delaware Workforce Development Board, and Michelle Taylor is president and CEO of United Way of Delaware.

This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Delaware high school seniors: New initiative paves way for next steps