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Making the Most of Fall – Outside the (Online) Classroom

It’s looking more and more like students and families will be continuing to work together at home for the foreseeable future—one person at the dinner table, one person in the office, and one person at the countertop…and maybe another trying to balance a laptop on their lap in the hall!

As fall planning gets up and running for your students, you know that having an extracurricular plan is just as important as having an academic one. In addition to thinking about how your students can do their best academically this fall, carve out some time to talk with them about what types of (safe) activities they want to take part in outside of the school day. Learn a programming language? Try a new workout routine? Start a painting project? Lead a fundraiser? There are many viable options at their fingertips to help them make the most of this extended time at home. 

In addition to continuing to do their best in school, there’s a lot that students can do to take advantage of this break from normalcy, following their interests and learning new things along the way. They can take time to be outside, read books, and play with their younger siblings— it is helpful to point out to students and families that they are not just playing games online; they are finding activities that they may not normally have had time to enjoy. Acquiring a new talent, honing their cooking skills, and just plain playing will all add layers to their identity and will inevitably impact their growth. In addition to this kind of personal growth, you can also encourage students to find other ways to demonstrate their interests, passions, commitment and goals.

Learning for Fun

Students can spend some of their free time exploring the multitude of learning options online. For example, colleges and universities, like Johns Hopkins and Wake Forest, offer online classes geared toward high school students. Not only will your student interact with other teens around the globe, but they’ll also have the opportunity to earn college credit. These courses range in subjects from the creative arts to engineering to political science. Students can take this opportunity to dive into subjects they wish they knew more about, or even ones that they’re considering studying in college. There are wide array of interesting courses now available online through platforms like edX and Catapult, from how to write political nonfiction to the basics of coding in Python. Other platforms to explore for ideas and inspiration include Coursera, Udemy and Udacity. You can also encourage students to look at local colleges for classes and events that are open to high school students (and don’t overlook the options at your local community colleges!).

Volunteering for Good

During this global crisis, many folks are helping others to stay busy, and more importantly, to give back. The sheer number of communities and organizations requiring help grows daily, and with a little creativity, it’s entirely possible to volunteer from home. For example, starting a fundraising campaign for an organization that is meaningful to your student not only helps the community, but also teaches your student about communication, marketing, project management, and financial management. Here are a few resources to help students get started in their search for volunteer opportunities:

  Ideas to Act for the Common Good During Coronavirus Crisis

  Helping Partners through Generation Serve

  Tutor Children Virtually With TeensGive

  Peers and Students Taking Action

Plan for the Future

Informational interviews and targeted internships can be a great way for students to make the most of this change in schedule by diving deeper into potential career interests. While they may require some help—or at least some nudging—from IECs and parents, we suggest considering the following opportunities.

  Informational Interviews

As students start thinking about what subjects they’re interested in, informational interviews can help them decide if an academic area is something they want to pursue—as a major or a career. Talking to trusted adults with knowledge of specific career paths is an excellent way to start thinking about both potential college majors and future career possibilities. You can download our guide to informational interviews as well as our guided worksheet to help your students get started.

  Targeted Internships

There may still be internship opportunities available during this complex time. Businesses that are struggling financially might be willing to offer an unpaid internship, and your student can use their family and friend network to discover other potential opportunities. Don’t forget to consider internships within a family business. Internships are a wonderful way to develop skills, learn about careers of interest, and get some real-life experience while still in high school. Read our blog post about landing an internship for more ideas on how to navigate the process.

An important outcome of all of this staying at home is skill-building. Focusing on skill development, rather than outcomes, is a great way to take control of an uncertain and sometimes scary situation. When students have a sense of what their skills are, they are more easily able to make important choices, like what to major in or how to build their college list. Skill-building will also come into play when it comes time to write effective college application essays that tell a story. While there are certain aspects of your student’s life that simply can’t be the same as last fall – they can’t perform in the school band from home, and they can’t play on the soccer team remotely – there’s a definite silver lining in that students now have the chance to explore ideas, subjects, and activities that they normally wouldn’t have the time to. Of course, this will add a meaningful layer to their college applications, but it will also help them learn about themselves and give back to those around them. So, as we learn to navigate this uncharted territory, remember to give your students (and yourself!) space to feel dejected and frustrated and anxious—but also encourage them to understand this as a time of growth and opportunity.

Bob Carlton is a College & Career Consultant at College MatchPoint, helping students launch into college and their first careers. A developer of young people, Bob is equal parts cheerleader and challenger.  He loves helping students discover their interests and passions.

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