Webster Parish high school students will decide on two graduation pathways this coming school year, according to the Department of Education, but all high school students will be required to apply for collegiate financial aid.
In previous school years, graduating seniors received diplomas in the Core 4, a basic diploma or a career diploma. Those have now been reduced to the TOPS Tech pathway or the TOPS University pathway – which means either a diploma to go to college or a diploma in a technical or vocational field.
Superintendent of Schools Johnny Rowland Jr. said the pathways will allow students to choose which way they want to go in their careers at the same time increasing the number of students who receive a high school diploma.
As for all students having to apply for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, Rowland said it is a way to increase college enrollment as well as enrollment in vocational and technical schools.
“It educates parents and students as to what’s available for financial aid,” he said. “It makes people aware of what’s out there and it may spur someone who had not thought about some type of post-secondary schooling to consider it.”
The two graduation pathways, along with the FASFA requirement, encourages students to begin thinking about their careers and the direction in which they want their lives to go, Lakeside High School Principal Denny Finley said.
“There’s plenty of money to be made going through the career path, and if college doesn’t interest a student, then there’s no sense in wasting money on a degree they’ll never use,” he said. “With these Jump Start pathways, if these students start digging into it and find out they enjoy it, it turns them on to a great career one day.”
Finley said freshmen and sophomores would still be taking required courses, building upon earlier grades, but in their sophomore year, they will be thinking about which pathway they want to take.
“In their freshman year, you’re getting a feel for what they can and can’t do, and in their sophomore year, you talk to them about what they want to do,” he said. “Usually, they will have a Jump Start night where parents can come and learn about the pathways and answer their questions.”
Finley went on to say if a student decides later on they would rather take a different route, there is a way for them to do so. For instance, if a student is on the career pathway and decides their senior year they want to go to a four-year university, they could begin that pathway.
“They aren’t just boxing them into one pathway,” he said. “They may have to begin at a junior college, but they can do it – even if they decide to go to college long after they are out of high school.”
Jump Start Coordinator Dr. Beverly Smith said each of the high schools in Webster Parish offers vocational avenues, such as welding, business enterprise, certified nursing assistant and others, and students can graduate ready to either continue their education at a vocational or technical school or they can go straight to work.
“They are employable when they leave high school,” she said. “They are better preparing themselves to leave high school. They’re asked to be more focused on what they want to do when they get out of high school and we have a better idea on how to educate them.”