If the purpose of school is to prepare students for the real world, then Clarke Community High School has taken that to the next level with its advisory program and graduation portfolio.
“They’re to help kids not fall through the cracks,” said Jan Rychnovsky, a Clarke English teacher. “That’s part of it. It’s about relationships.”
The mission of the advisory program is to promote and provide a strong network of support and communication led by a committed advisor. Advisory activities guide and monitor personal and academic growth, promote a sense of social engagement and foster community responsibility to help each student attain his/her potential to make a living, life and difference.
From freshman to senior year, Clarke students work on a graduation portfolio to reflect their work throughout the four years of high school.
In 2007, Clarke Community School Board voted the high school portfolio/senior presentation as mandatory requirements for graduation.
In the 2011-12 school year, the school board voted to grade and assign credit for the advisory program. Students earn one-fourth credit for each year of the portfolio/advisory participation, which includes the senior presentation.
“It’s reflections on classwork,” Rychnovsky said. “It’s reflections on, ‘What did I get out of being in band or extracurricular activities?’ It’s research on colleges or career pathways.”
Portfolios can also include scholarship letters, letters of recommendation, job shadow summaries and resumés.
Senior presentations must be given to adults in the district or community. People who also attend the presentations may be parents, friends, coaches or military recruiters.
The presentation requirement means students are using their professional speaking skills, as well.
“It gives them accountability — student accountability,” Rychnovsky said. “It’s also, we feel, a really good way to assure that every single one of our students is prepared as much as we can prepare them for their next step.”
Graduation portfolios are also a way to make sure students are using their writing skills. Rychnovsky said good writing skills, formal language and literacy can be found in all career fields.
For the past couple of years, Rychnovsky and Rhoda Thompson, Clarke’s business teacher, have been working together to be the “second checkers” for the student portfolios.
Many colleges are also requiring portfolios when students graduate. While different schools may require different guidelines of setting up portfolios, at least Clarke students will be accustomed to creating the documentation and reflections.
“When they get into college classes and they start hearing about portfolios, there are other kids who are panicking because they don’t have any idea what a portfolio is,” Rychnovsky said. “Every year we have (college) freshman come back and talk to the senior class … the first thing that flew out of a kid’s mouth is ‘I’m in ag classes, and guess what? I have to do a portfolio.’”
Rychnovsky and Thompson also help with setting up career speakers for students to listen to.
Rychnovsky said Clarke has had more than 700 speakers from across Iowa. Skyping online also allows students to interact with officials from across the country or overseas.
As for the graduation portfolio, there’s something new Clarke students can include in it — the National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC).
The NCRC demonstrates achievement of workplace employability skills. The national certification is good in 44 states.
Rychnovsky said she was approached by officials with Iowa Workforce Development because they had heard about Clarke’s graduation portfolio and advisory program, and were impressed.
The school district asked for seniors to volunteer to take the three-hour certification test. There are levels of achievement on the test — bronze, silver, gold and platinum.
“We had some kids who scored platinum in one area, but because they scored lower in other areas, they got the lower certification,” Rychnovsky said.
Now, the students who took the test have an account set up with Iowa Workforce, and they can go back and take the test they need over again to improve their results, Rychnovsky said.
When applying for jobs on a college campus, students can show in their resume they have a silver or gold rating in the NCRC.
“On a college campus, what do kids usually do? Oh, flip burgers ... they get some menial little (job),” Rychnovsky said. “Well, guess what? I’ve got silver or a gold certification. I’ve got the skills to work in the business office.”