How Baltimore Is Helping Students Transition From High School

Posted March 13, 2022
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
A Black female high school student smiles while conversing with an adult Black woman, who wears a t-shirt that says: “Ask me about City Schools Navigator Center.”

Bal­ti­more City is home to 155 schools, includ­ing 45 high schools. In 2020, rough­ly 4,000 stu­dents grad­u­at­ed. How­ev­er, many of these young peo­ple, despite their tal­ents and aspi­ra­tions, face bar­ri­ers that pre­vent them from pur­su­ing post­sec­ondary edu­ca­tion or secur­ing sta­ble employ­ment. These youth also lose access to sup­port and resources from Bal­ti­more City Pub­lic Schools once they leave high school behind.

The Nav­i­ga­tor Center

Here’s where the City Schools Nav­i­ga­tor Cen­ter comes in. Launched as a pilot pro­gram in 2020 — with fund­ing and sup­port from the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion — the effort helps 1824-year-old city res­i­dents apply to col­lege or begin a new career through work­force devel­op­ment pro­grams. The Cen­ter is the first of its kind in Bal­ti­more and pro­vides guid­ance specif­i­cal­ly for those who grad­u­ate from high school and seek addi­tion­al career sup­port in the ear­ly years of young adulthood.

In the sum­mer of 2021, more than 500 young peo­ple used the Center’s career coun­sel­ing ser­vices at their in-per­son loca­tion with­in For­est Park High School. Hun­dreds of oth­ers accessed the Center’s web­site to search for finan­cial aid, uni­ver­si­ty hous­ing and career train­ing, or to sub­mit a col­lege appli­ca­tion and request aca­d­e­m­ic tran­scripts. By offer­ing ser­vices online and in-per­son, the Nav­i­ga­tor Cen­ter works with stu­dents wher­ev­er they feel most com­fort­able — a crit­i­cal fea­ture giv­en the ongo­ing COVID-19 pandemic.

Sup­port­ing Grad­u­ates and Old­er Youth

For for­mer stu­dents inter­est­ed in col­lege, the Nav­i­ga­tor Cen­ter helps com­bat sum­mer melt,” a phe­nom­e­non that occurs when stu­dents leave high school with col­lege aspi­ra­tions, but nev­er show up in the fall as intend­ed. Accord­ing to the Nav­i­ga­tor Cen­ter, 42% of Bal­ti­more City pub­lic school grad­u­ates expe­ri­ence sum­mer melt.

It’s impor­tant to rec­og­nize that young peo­ple in Bal­ti­more need sup­port over an extend­ed peri­od of time, not just when they’re enrolled in school,” says Sara Coop­er, a senior asso­ciate with Casey’s Bal­ti­more Civic Site. The Nav­i­ga­tor Cen­ter allows city schools’ doors’ to remain open and acces­si­ble for grad­u­ates and even young peo­ple who may have left school with­out graduating.”

Through the Nav­i­ga­tor Cen­ter, for­mer stu­dents inter­est­ed in con­tin­u­ing their edu­ca­tion are con­nect­ed with rep­re­sen­ta­tives at col­leges. They’re assigned a coach, such as a cur­rent stu­dent or staff mem­ber, who sup­ports them along their jour­ney and tracks their progress to make sure they’re mov­ing for­ward,” says Towan Coop­er, who man­ages the Nav­i­ga­tor Cen­ter. Hav­ing that kind of sup­port from some­one with­in high­er edu­ca­tion makes a huge difference.”

A Focus on Con­nect­ing Young Peo­ple with Work

The Cen­ter also was intend­ed to sup­port young peo­ple who are not inter­est­ed in attend­ing col­lege after high school, with many for­mer stu­dents inter­est­ed in learn­ing a trade or begin­ning their careers right after high school.

Not every­body is col­lege-bound and we have to think about the stu­dent who isn’t choos­ing col­lege as their next step,” says Coop­er. Today, we’re see­ing more and more stu­dents who start careers right out of high school. For many stu­dents who aren’t sure which path to take, the Cen­ter pro­vides impor­tant guid­ance that young peo­ple tra­di­tion­al­ly lose access to after high school.”

The Nav­i­ga­tor Cen­ter offers young peo­ple one-on-one guid­ance from coach­es in a vari­ety of dis­ci­plines, not only high­er edu­ca­tion. This includes rep­re­sen­ta­tives from local busi­ness­es, para­le­gals from the Bal­ti­more State’s Attorney’s Office and career devel­op­ment specialists.

When we began to look for vol­un­teer coach­es, we reached out to every­one we could think of that might be inter­est­ed,” says Tra­cy Kyt­tle, a City Schools man­ag­er who spe­cial­izes in post­sec­ondary advis­ing. We were blown away by the num­ber of car­ing adults from a vari­ety of fields who want­ed to help.” Each vol­un­teer men­tor agrees to under­go train­ing and com­mit to a four-month rota­tion dur­ing which they cul­ti­vate rela­tion­ships with their stu­dent mentees. It was impor­tant that we think smarter, not hard­er, and lean into the rela­tion­ships and the tal­ents of our own city to build our inter­nal capac­i­ty and suc­cess cul­ture,” adds Kyttle.

Com­mu­ni­ty Part­ner­ships Are Key

The Cen­ter has forged an impor­tant part­ner­ship with Wide Angle Youth Media, a local non­prof­it that works with young peo­ple to teach them how to tell their own sto­ries through video, pho­tog­ra­phy and social media. With the sup­port and guid­ance of both orga­ni­za­tions, two for­mer stu­dents devel­oped a full media cam­paign pro­mot­ing the Nav­i­ga­tor Cen­ter that includ­ed ads placed on MTA vehi­cles, tar­get­ed text mes­sages and even a video com­mer­cial. We saw this as an impor­tant oppor­tu­ni­ty to not only give stu­dents direct career expe­ri­ence, but also to authen­ti­cal­ly cen­ter our own young voic­es in shap­ing our nar­ra­tive,” says Kyttle.

Even­tu­al­ly, the Nav­i­ga­tor Cen­ter hopes to expand its reach by estab­lish­ing addi­tion­al rela­tion­ships with near­by col­leges and local busi­ness­es. The Nav­i­ga­tor Center’s ulti­mate goal is to ensure our grad­u­ates are per­sist­ing in their post­sec­ondary pur­suits and find­ing suc­cess no mat­ter which path­ways they choose,” says Jacque­line Pen­der­grass, a City Schools man­ag­er. We will do this through a holis­tic approach mobi­liz­ing com­mu­ni­ty, resources and sup­port that empow­er our young peo­ple to enjoy choice-filled lives.”

Learn More About Help­ing Young Peo­ple Grad­u­ate and Find Careers

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