Not every student knows what he’s going to do after graduating.

Not every student can be sure she’s getting a diploma at all.

Shannon Brunton hopes to be the extra help those students need to form a plan for success after high school.

Shannon Brunton
Shannon Brunton

Beginning next semester, as the high school’s graduation and career coach, she will work with 20 freshmen and sophomores identified as at risk for dropping out. For two years, she will meet with students once a week for an hour.

“You have to have a plan for the day after graduation. It doesn’t mean you have to do that forever, but you do have to have some type of plan,” said Debbie Harman, director of student learning for Brown County Schools.

“We want kids to have a good high school experience and think positively about themselves as learners and understand the different choices that are available to them within high school — and then see beyond high school,” she said.

The graduation rate at the high school for 2014-15 was above 90 percent and has been consistently higher than the state’s average.

Fourteen students in that “cohort” group did not graduate with the rest of their peers. According to the Indiana Department of Education, five dropped out, six were still working on their diplomas and three received waivers.

Improving the graduation rate is one goal of this program.

Brunton said what the district will be looking for in identifying students for coaching is the ratio of “protective factors” to “risk factors” in their lives.

Risk factors could be poor attendance, poor grades, discipline referrals, whether or not they have “friend drama” and if they are not involved in any extracurricular activities or clubs. Protective factors could be a supportive family atmosphere, or, for students with behavior problems, the fact that they’re working with a mental health agency, Brunton said.

The high school will use its Learning Support Team of teachers to help identify students for the program after the at-risk and protective factor data is collected.

Students and their parents will be notified of their selection for the program by Nov. 29, the plan says.

“I am hoping we can show that this really helped second semester and that this can grow into a full-time position,” Killinger said.

Background

In the spring, Brown County Schools applied for a grant that would fund a graduation and career coach at the high school through Regional Opportunity Initiatives Inc., Harman said.

That person would have been employed by Ivy Tech Community College.BCS did not receive the grant. The district was later approached by the Brown County Career Resource Center about establishing a graduation and career coach position using Brunton, Harman said.

Though the district’s grant application was turned down, Harman said the ROI group was impressed with what the district was already doing in terms of college and career advising in all schools, and offered to give training in their two-day Check and Connect program for free.

Brunton attended, as did high school guidance counselor Katherine Janowski.

The program has four components: mentor, check, connect and families. It will be used to coach the students Brunton will aid next semester.

Right now, Brunton works 25 hours per week at the Brown County Career Resource Center aiding students who are working toward their high school equivalency certificates. Second semester, 20 of those hours will be transferred to the high school for this new position.

She also works on contract with the school district doing student psychological evaluations for suspected disabilities such as autism. Those evaluations can include IQ tests, achievement tests, looking at how the student functions in the world and how the student communicates.

Brunton is a fourth-year doctoral student at Indiana University’s School of Psychology.

“I have a real interest in why people are where they are at — and it’s not necessarily about judgment; it’s about understanding, and then helping to fix what I see often as being systematic problems,” she said.

Killinger said adding Brunton will help the guidance counselors at the high school. The school used to have three of them, but is down to two, and they are busy organizing testing for students and don’t have enough time to help them with their plans after high school, he said.

“With all of the testing, this is an area that you want to do, but you don’t have enough time in the day,” he said.

Staying engaged

In 2015, Brunton surveyed people of all ages who came to the CRC to take the test for their high school equivalency certificate, formerly known as the GED exam.

They were given a list of reasons for why they exited high school early and were asked to check as many as applied to them.

The top reason was a lack of interest or motivation.

Second was attendance, followed by poor relations with a person in the school, a lack of credits and deciding to get a job instead.

One option on the survey was “that nobody cared.” Six men and one woman chose that one.

“It was really about relationships — and the lack of them is what spoke volumes to us,” Brunton said.

Another hope is that having a graduation and career coach at the high school will help prevent students from withdrawing and getting their high school equivalency instead.

“It is not easy to get your GED,” Harman said. “It’s never been a snap, but it is harder now than it’s ever been to go through the process.”

Another hope is that high school graduates may instead come to the CRC to complete their next level of education, like taking a course through Ivy Tech, Harman said.

She said collecting data about why students leave before graduating is also a “self-assessment strategy” for the district, as it faces declining enrollment.

Students and parents are now asked about their reasons for leaving and that information is coded into a computer system.

“It’s all about supporting students. We talk about supporting students as they’re learning to read, but now we’re talking about supporting students as they exit high school,” Harman said.

“We support them through all these other transitions, but we now have realized there’s more to supporting them.”

Another partnership

Brown County Schools is partnering with Ivy Tech Community College and Cook Medical to offer a new course next semester at Brown County High School, which will allow them to receive a certificate and become eligible for employment at Cook Medical after graduation.

The new biotechnology course will be taught by science teacher Kady Lane. About 25 students will be able to enroll, said Director of Student Learning Debbie Harman.

After 12 weeks, students will receive their certification and be eligible to work at Cook Medical where they can make a “decent wage” with benefits, Harman said.

“Then, based on your performance in the job, you may be offered opportunities to take further courses and be further certified. They pay for it all,” she said.

More information will be available in the coming weeks.

At a glance

Between 2015 and 2016, Shannon Brunton surveyed people who came to the Brown County Career Resource Center to take the high school equivalency exam about the reasons why they left high school before graduating. They were able to check as many as applied to them.

25 cited a lack of interest/motivation

23 had poor attendance

16 had poor relationships with someone in the school building

17 did not have enough credits to graduate

12 got a job instead

16 cited an “other” reason

14 had family problems

8 were pregnant

9 were ill or had a family member who was ill

8 moved

7 thought nobody cared

8 believed academics were too difficult

8 cited bullying

6 said that instruction was not useful

3 cited financial reasons

4 were incarcerated

3 cited transportation issues

2 cited lack of child care

2 said earning a diploma was not important to their family

Source: Shannon Brunton with the Brown County Career Resource Center