The following article was originally published by the Bennington Banner on June 27, 2021.

TOWNSHEND — The 2020-21 school year just ended, but folks at Leland & Gray Union High School are already preparing for the next school year.

“This past year we did ‘Senior Survival,’” said Terry Davison Berger, the school’s multiple pathways coordinator. “But that was for seniors only. We are hoping this grant from CFES Brilliant Pathways can help us facilitate more college and career readiness for grades 9 through 11.”

Leland & Gray was one of five Vermont schools that qualified for the program, which provides schools with a multi-faceted, comprehensive college readiness program. One of the requirements to qualify for the assistance is that a school demonstrates a commitment to making the program a success.

“We do a really good job making sure our senior are leaving with a plan,” said Sarah Grasso, school counselor. “But we always wanted to have our 9th graders thinking about their plan, too.”

Grasso said Leland & Gray just doesn’t have the staffing and resources to expand Senior Survival to earlier grades, but with the assistance of Brilliant Pathways, it can now happen starting next year.

Senior Survival focuses on how to conduct a job search, how to apply for a job and how to write a resume and cover letter, and how to prepare for an interview, said Berger.

“Expanding this to students in 9th through 11th grades is the next logical step,” said Principal Bob Thibault. “This collection of experiences … we should make sure all the kids have it.”

The support Leland & Gray will get from Brilliant Pathways adds up to about $25,000 a year in services, he said.

CFES Brilliant Pathways is a college and career-readiness nonprofit based in Essex, N.Y.

“Too many rural young people lack the skills and education to take on today’s high-wage jobs, and they are being left out of the 21st century economy as a result,” stated Rick Dalton, president and CEO of CFES Brilliant Pathways, in a news release. “The goal of this program is to level the playing field for a large group of rural students and ultimately rural communities.”

“Brilliant Pathways will have someone available to work with us in creating this,” said Berger. “We have the vision and the desire, but what’s been hard is to find the time to nail down the logistics and the details.”

According to the news release from CFES, a dedicated professional program director from Brilliant Pathways will make in-person and virtual visits throughout the year to help guide the development of college and career plans.

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Each participating student will complete a 10-point college and career readiness plan annually that is certified by CFES.

“They will provide a really nice structure,” said Grasso. “Terry and I can sit in a room and come up with some awesome ideas, but streamlining them is sometimes a challenge.”

Berger said the new program can help the younger students get a better understanding of what jobs might be available for them upon graduation.

“From there, we’ll get them thinking about how to map out the next few years,” she said. “What kind of classes they should be taking, what kind of community service or extracurricular activity can support that career goal.”

Grasso admitted that what a student might be interested in their freshman year may not be what they are interested in by the time they are seniors.

“We are hopeful we can create the conversation, the vocabulary, the language that will follow them through their four years,” she said, “ so that when they get to their junior year it’s not the first time they’ve been thinking about this. Their 9th-grade job might not be their 12th-grade job, but they’ll have the resources and connections to process that growth.”

“For students, even if they don’t plan to go to college, this will give them marketable skills to get solid employment after graduation,” said Berger.

Grasso said one of the services CFES provides is pairing students with a mentor in a field they are interested in exploring.

“Kids will have the opportunity to be paired with somebody from, say, NASA, or in California,” she said.

Thibault said the high school has already partnered with the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation to offer programs through its Pipelines and Pathways Program, helping students to become “Windham Work Ready,” by developing their interview and resume skills and by building connections with local employers.

“Part of that mission is helping kids who are staying in Windham County to establish themselves quickly and be ready for employment upon graduation,” he said.


By Bob Audette