Lessons From Our First Semester Back

By: Rachel Livingston, VP of Programs

Fall 2021 was a semester of celebrations, challenges, obstacles, and possibilities.

The hallways of high schools and college echoed with the footsteps of students, thrilled to be back on campus with their friends and teachers. The isolation and challenges of distance learning have taken their toll on our students, but they are resilient and determined. For our students and our staff alike, the fall semester was one of learning and adapting. After 18 months of remote learning, students and staff spent the fall semester getting reacquainted with each other and the new procedures designed to keep everyone safe and healthy. 

At the high schools, as students returned to their school sites and in-person learning, the toll of distance learning began to really come into focus. So many students struggled to focus in the classroom. As our staff worked with students throughout the semester, it became clear that many students had gaps in their knowledge about high school requirements, college admissions requirements, and opportunities for college and career after high school. Fulfillment Fund has always been committed to making sure students have the information they need to succeed in life after high school. Students who are part of Fulfillment Fund programs have always known that we are here to support them and guide them as they move through high school and college and into the world of work, and fall 2021 was no different. 

Fulfillment Fund staff got to work connecting with students throughout the fall semester, both in person and virtually. College counselors at the high school resumed guiding students in person, providing workshops on planning for life after high school, and completing college applications. Through our College Access Curriculum Program, high school students have been learning important lessons like time management and how to reduce stress, as well as college admissions requirements and visiting colleges through virtual tours.

College Success Advisors also spent the semester working with our college students as they adjusted to in-person learning at their college campuses. Workshops on stress reduction and career choices as well as community building helped our students connect with our staff and each other as they worked to achieve their academic goals. For many of our college students, they had not set foot on their college campus even though they had been taking classes for two years. Through our peer mentoring program and personalized workshops, Fulfillment Fund staff worked diligently to ensure that our college students built new connections to their university. Our annual Holiday Homecoming event, suspended in 2020 due to the pandemic, was held once again in December 2021. College students safely gathered to play trivia games, catch up with friends and Fulfillment Fund staff, and watch Spiderman Homecoming in a spacious, private movie theater. The joy the students felt being able to come together and celebrate the end of their fall semester was unmistakable and palpable, even with masks and strict vaccination protocols.

No matter what challenges our students faced during the fall semester, we were able to make adjustments to our programs in order to best meet their needs. Understanding that our students have been experiencing unprecedented levels of stress and anxiety due to the pandemic, this fall our Programs team implemented an extra layer of support for students. In both one-on-one check-ins and group presentations, all programs staff took time to check in with students and see how they were feeling emotionally. Giving students this time to share with our staff and talk about what was on their minds ensured that students felt supported and heard by their counselors and advisors. Students shared their stresses and fears, both school and non-school-related. Counselors and advisors were able to help students with whatever was worrying them so that they could focus on their studies and academic goals. Students have consistently reported that these check-ins have left them feeling better and more confident. After a semester of checking in with students and evaluating the effectiveness of the check-ins, the evidence shows our staff is not only effective in ensuring our students have the correct information and guidance to achieve their academic goals, but we are also proving our effectiveness at reducing student stress and anxiety. All throughout the semester, student feedback has been clear and consistent — the check-ins with their counselors and advisors help them feel better and stay focused on their goals.

As we move into the spring semester and as Omicron creates uncertainty all around us, we remain prepared to support our students and help them achieve success this spring.  Our spring programming is dynamic and flexible, built upon our ability to pivot as needed given the realities of student needs and school site logistics. One thing we know for certain — whatever challenges appear for our students this semester, our staff will successfully help them navigate them to keep them moving towards achieving their goals for life after high school.

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