Capstone Classes: Preparing Seniors for Life After Graduation
When students begin their senior year of high school, many have never been exposed to real-world challenges—such as managing finances, applying for health insurance, and navigating college or the workforce.
To adequately prepare seniors for life after graduation, Milton Hershey School’s capstone class incorporates hands-on, real-world lessons, guest speakers, and assignments that teach them about the various factors that impact their success after graduation.
“The overall theme is to help seniors transition out of high school and into their life after graduation—whether that’s a post-secondary school, the military, or the workforce,” Mark Frew, an MHS capstone teacher, said. “The capstone class gives them a common knowledge base.”
For students who come from underprivileged backgrounds, this type of class is especially important to guide them as they make fundamental decisions and manage new responsibilities.
Hands-On, Real-World Lessons
During the capstone class, teachers encourage seniors to think like adults and understand the magnitude of what graduation means. With easily accessible resources and strong support from staff, students can confront challenges knowing they aren’t alone.
“When they’re in our class, all the concepts and resources are here. If they don’t understand something, someone will explain it for them. Next year, that won’t be the case,” said John Karavage, an MHS capstone teacher. “The more we explain now and frontload the information, the better.”
- Resume writing – Through hands-on assignments, students learn how to create resumes and work with human resources professionals to accept feedback. “We’re trying our best to add a real-world, problem-based learning component,” said Karavage. “If students hear it from a professional, it’s more meaningful.”
- College vocabulary – Students learn the differences between community colleges and universities, understand degree statuses, learn about work study programs, and more. The goal is to give them a solid foundation of higher education terminology.
- Time management and creating schedules – To teach time management skills, one capstone assignment asks students to browse a list of college classes and create a class schedule as if they were a college freshman.
- Guest speakers – Seniors learn from guest speakers who visit the capstone class, including faculty from community colleges and military recruiters.
- Healthcare and health insurance – MHS social workers teach students how to apply and advocate for their own health insurance.
- Back-up plans – While it’s important to teach students how to dream, creating practical back-up plans is an essential skill. For example, if they enter the workforce but can’t find a job, what’s their back-up plan? If they enter college but realize they want to pursue something different, what’s their plan of action?
- Financial literacy – Seniors learn about credit scores, banks, paying bills, and credit vs. debit cards. Students are presented with real financial problems and share how they would solve them.
- Financial aid – For students who want to pursue higher education, they learn how fill out forms like FAFSA and learn about the process of paying off student loans.
- Advice from young alumni – Seniors have opportunities to participate in virtual chats with young MHS alumni who offer their perspectives on life after graduation. “Our seniors heard the same things we’ve been teaching, but having that honest, one-to-one conversation with young alumni was really meaningful for them,” Karavage said.
Personalized, One-on-One Instruction
To provide students with individualized attention, capstone teachers work closely with the school’s college and career counselors. Through one-on-one work periods, students receive tailored advice and guidance on their post-graduation plans—whether they want to attend a two-year school, a four-year university, or enter the workforce or military.
“We’re working hand in hand with our college and career counselors. It helps us to pinpoint what the students need and personalize the capstone classes,” Karavage said.
Capstone teachers also personalize the assignments to make them relevant for every student, regardless of their path.
“We’re tweaking the assignments to make them fit for all students. For example, if you’re joining the military, we understand you won’t have to know how to manage a college schedule, but you’ll still need to know how to manage your time,” Karavage added.
For students coming from poverty, this type of capstone class can help them embrace their status as first-generation college students and feel confident in the decisions and responsibilities ahead of them.
“Traditional academics are considered high stakes because of testing, but [this class] is about the real world. It’s a different type of high stakes,” Frew said. “On their graduation day, our goal is to make sure students have a plan—a way to get home from graduation, a health insurance plan, and the ability to be an adult,” Frew said.
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