LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Jessica Read

Position: Future Center Middle School Counselor
School: Ranum Middle School
School District: Westminster Public Schools
City, State: Westminster, CO

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Jessica Read was nominated by her teacher, Stephanie Baer.

Four years ago, Ms. Read accepted the role of middle school counselor for the Future Center. At the time, there was no center, no career planning curriculum created, and no obvious path for students to understand what it takes to adequately prepare for life after graduation. Ms. Read was motivated by the opportunity to create all of this support from scratch.  She actively sought to create a seamless, systemic approach to prepare students for the day after graduation. Central to this effort is the Individual Career and Academic Plan, or ICAP. The ICAP is created by each student to map his or her pathway through school to their profession.

Ms. Read tackled curriculum creation for levels 6 – 8. This curriculum is differentiated by the development level of the students and delivered in entirely different forms across three different schools. The curriculum incorporates state recommendations, ASCA mindsets, district personal and social competencies. The result is a Future Planning tracking document that students add to during each year of ICAP instruction. Ms. Read, with input from the core counseling team, teachers and administrators, owns curriculum creation and executes the instruction across all locations.

The ICAP not only addresses students' academic, career and personal/social development, but also establishes their transitions from 5th to 6th grade and 8th to 9th grade in meaningful ways. The work completed is essential to ensuring that every student receives personal assistance while still in the district to be truly prepared for their future. Students see the meaning for their ICAP for various reasons. At the middle level, a deep focus on students' social and emotional development gives them skills to manage through the uncertainty, increased responsibilities, and academic demands that lie ahead. Middle school students are given the ability to explore financial literacy, complete life problem-solving scenarios and prepare for and attend the career expo. They are also able to track and understand the importance of staying on grade level for their academic work in order to realize rewards like on-time graduation, concurrent enrollment, and participation in internships while in high school. Students feel truly supported in their individual efforts to succeed. They have champions helping them understand the many professionals who are available to provide support, guidance and networking on their behalf.

As a result of this work, deeper knowledge of issues students face as individuals is now known to the counseling and mental health teams. Their ability to provide ways for students to constructively process through their barriers creates a more resilient student and healthier overall student body. The district uniformly tracks all of the individual plans outlined by these students, and based on the collective information, continues to explore new courses and programs that align with student professional career aspirations. The ICAP is encouraging work with core educators as they collectively tackle student work at each level. Students complete personal essays that will serve as their first demonstration of who they are as individuals and how they can confidently talk about what they bring to their postsecondary institution, work or the military at graduation.

The district focus on personalized learning for students truly dovetails with the concept of the ICAP. As more student plans become the central talking document for all conversations, the more personal the focus will be, the more each aspect of each student will be considered when offering support, and the more each student will feel clear direction and help in achieving their personal goal. 

Prior to this work, students were uninformed or routinely overwhelmed by all of the decisions, documents, deadlines, contacts, commitments, expectations and recommendations they need to process as emerging adults. The ICAP is providing a connectedness between all of these that makes sense as part of a process. It keeps students from viewing the work as a series of unrelated activities. It gives them a literal pathway of decision making that is determined entirely by them.

Since starting this work, Ms. Read has added three additional schools to her load. She now instructs over 2000 students in six different locations. In order to keep the instruction personal, she made a commitment at the start of this year to learn the names of each of her students! She also hand edits all student work for grammatical correctness and doesn’t allow student work to be considered complete until it is corrected and resubmitted. Ms. Read expects a high bar of student performance. Her students respect her work with them and know she is doing all she can to make sure they enter high school ready to excel. Her exceptional work doesn’t stop there. At the start of each academic year, she comes to the high school to meet students in the halls and let them see that she is still interested in their transition, and that they'll continue to have an anchor for their personal growth and development.