Preparing Students to be Ready for Life

Guest Correspondence


In educators’ parlance, preparing high school students to be “college and career ready” is generally well understood from the academic perspective.

“Life readiness” is a relatively new component to the mission of preparing students to succeed in postsecondary endeavors. It is a component the Education Foundation of Sarasota County embraces and incorporates into our focal College, Career and Life Readiness Initiative.

We believe life readiness is the essential support that will enable students to achieve optimal college and career success.

The importance of life readiness has been reinforced as our organization serves as the backbone organization for the Local College Access Network work and conducts numerous workshops for students. The organization recently hosted a hugely successful College Admissions Planning Seminar with over 20 public and private liberal arts colleges participating.

Life readiness involves attributes such as leadership and responsibility; flexibility and adaptability; initiative and self-direction; productivity and accountability; and social, emotional and cross-cultural learning.

Redefining Ready!, a research-based guide, describes life-ready students as having the grit and perseverance to tackle and achieve their goals and possess the growth mindset that empowers them to approach their future with confidence, to dream big and achieve big.

The Education Foundation’s initial focus, in integrating the College, Career and Life Readiness Initiative, is on three life readiness areas: (1) social-emotional learning; (2) financial literacy; and (3) leadership.

Social-emotional learning emphasizes five competencies: self-awareness; self-management; social awareness; relationship skills; and responsible decision-making. Included is proactive anxiety alleviation, which is an increasingly valued skill in a time of heightened tensions and pressures for school-aged children.

To facilitate social-emotional learning and respond to guidance counselors’ and teachers’ requests, the Education Foundation provides lessons from School Connect, a program that boosts students’ social, emotional and academic skills by fostering academic engagement, enhancing social and emotional competencies, reducing risk factors and facilitating supportive relationships within the high school community.

School Connect’s mission is to prepare adolescents for adulthood, both personally and professionally. Lessons include preparing for college, employment and independent living.

Dr. Suzanne Burke, director of our College, Career and Life Readiness Initiative, recommended the program. She focused on social-emotional learning and 21st century skills in her nearly 30 years’ experience in education that included serving as associate superintendent for academics in Austin, Texas.

Using the curriculum, we provided a “coping with stress” lesson for high school students, taught by the lead guidance counselor who asked for help in light of students’ increased anxiety levels. In addition to positive feedback from students, the assistant principal later reported observing a formerly tense student sitting quietly and practicing calming techniques taught in the lesson.

The financial literacy component empowers students to effectively manage their finances, make sound decisions, and become stewards of their financial future through interactive exercises and simulated real-life scenarios. Modules for high school students include budgeting and making a spreadsheet; credit and debt, including: accessing financial aid, scholarships and student loads; savings and investing; and connecting financial literacy to college, career and life goals.

The first financial literacy workshop uses original curriculum developed by Dr. Burke and two Sarasota-based volunteers, a financial adviser and a college professor. The first offering of this six-module course is open to students in grades 9-12 at Riverview High School.

The student leadership component references unique challenges faced by students in this time of rapid change when numerous studies link social competency to the likelihood of success. The first leadership “camps”—our beta version workshops—will be taught at Riverview and North Port high schools this spring.

Timeless skills, such as those taught in student leadership workshops and other programs described here, lay the groundwork for students to learn resilience, productivity and achievement.

That’s a good start for life readiness.

Jennifer Vigne is president of the Education Foundation of Sarasota County.

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