Summer 2021

Counsellor’s Corner: Going Virtual

Transforming Post-Secondary Planning

Remember the good old days when your guidance department would host a Post-Secondary Night?  You would invite representatives from all the apprenticeships, colleges and universities in your province, and possibly some reps from across the country, to set up a table in the gym or maybe you assigned each rep their own classroom, where they could present to parents and students alike. 

At our school, we would host this event in the evening in our school gymnasium and it would run the first Thursday of April.  It was a huge event in our community.  On that day, we would round up our student volunteers after school. They would set up tables, put up signs and act as hosts, welcoming reps, helping wheel in viewbooks and swag. Once all the reps arrived and had set up their table in the gym, we would host them all for dinner in one of our classrooms that would be converted into a dining hall, complete with tablecloths, flowers, and a full buffet, including coffee and dessert.  And at 5:30pm we opened the doors to our community.  Throughout the night, we would see between five and six hundred people pass through our gym; it was bustling with activity and you could hear all the talk about pathways, programs, and admissions.  It was a great evening for our students, parents, students, staff and our reps.  We have positive, long standing relationships with many of our representatives. Each year, the same reps would sign up for our event so we could all see each other and catch up personally and professionally. We have been hosting an event like this since I started in guidance back in 2007.  Fast forward to April 2020, and COVID-19, and our event, which had been planned right down to the parting gift for the reps, was abruptly cancelled.

So, what is a school guidance department to do?  What did you all do?  How did you pivot and get this essential pathway planning information to your student and parent community?

Well, we feel fortunate to have such a great group of representatives that work at our Ontario Colleges and Universities. They all started reaching out at the end of the last school year to start planning for upcoming presentations to offer our students. We heard from reps across the country, from coast to coast.

What we decided to do for our community is to host weekly evening virtual presentations for parents and students. The target audience is Grade 10 and 11 students, but we invite all students and parents to attend and gather information for post-secondary planning.  We advertised on our guidance Twitter account, our webpage, and our google classes platform.  Unsure as to how our community would react and respond to this format, after having years of an intimate evening, in person event, we started with a presentation by the University of Guelph-Humber.  To our surprise and pleasure, we had over 80 people attend this first virtual university information evening.   The reps did a fantastic job outlining all the programs, university life, and the admissions process. They had current Guelph-Humber students talk about their experience, offered us a virtual tour of the campus.  They touched upon finances and scholarships and they even gave a generous amount of time for a Q&A session. The event was such a success that we moved on to our second presentation a week later hosted by five GTA colleges that focused on degree programs offered by Ontario colleges. We had over 100 participants attend this event. 

So, on and on it went.  Every week, we hosted a different presentation, either by a college, an apprenticeship program, or a university.  And, every week, we kept getting more and more participants engaged, asking great questions, obtaining information, then reaching out to us, their guidance counsellors, to help plan.   Soon, we noticed that students and parents from neighboring schools were logging on and participating in these events. 

There is a clear hunger for post-secondary planning information from both students and parents alike.  Programs have changed and evolved so much in the past few years; there are so many more options and choosing a pathway becomes an exercise in planning and re-planning.  The truth is it can be a daunting and overwhelming task to help your child plan their post-secondary pathway when you, as a parent, might have gone through the process some 20 years earlier, or you might be new to the country and have not gone through the process at all.  Guidance is required to help students and parents navigate these multiple pathways.  Virtual presentations offer a fantastic opportunity to reach as many community members as possible.

When things get back to ‘normal’ (whatever that will mean), I have a strong feeling that these evening webinars will continue to grow in popularity and evolve into the new model of presenting post-secondary information.  The post-secondary reps I’ve talked to echo this belief. They believe the virtual format allows them to reach a large community of people. The questions that are asked on the message board allow participants who may have a similar question to see what is posted and hear the answers in real time.  The best part is that all this information is delivered by the reps and received by the students from the safety of everyone’s living room.  In this changing climate, taking post-secondary planning virtual is the most efficient and effective choice and may be the launch pad to changing how guidance departments reach out to our students and help them plan their pathways.

By: Anna Macri