By Anna Populorum
"As a student, I'm told where I need to go, but not how to get there. What kids like me really need is guidance. We need a community that is supportive and open to students. We need a community that understands that most kids are very eager to learn and are desperately waiting for inspiration to ignite within themselves."
Going into the Wake County, North Carolina GradNation Community Summit on April 29, all I knew was that I would be on a panel in the afternoon where I would have to answer this question: "What resources are available to you as a high school student to gain success and what resources are lacking?"
Statistics, programs and more questions were thrown at me. I was in a whirlwind, and honestly, almost everything was going over my head.
Finally, the leaders of the summit asked a question that hit me in the face: "How do we close the gap?" The big dogs were really asking, "Hey, how do we get students to graduate?" But, they said, we need to take it a step further and ask, "How do we get these kids to graduate while being college- or career-ready?"
Throughout the day, I was increasingly dumbfounded at the effort people were investing in students' futures. There are various summer programs or things like College Board Week, where college applications are free for a week. Or FASFA Day with the help from CFNC for student aide.
Here's the kicker: No one told us these opportunities exist. That gold-plated phrase "communication is key" really came to life for me at the summit. There is no one who gathers the discussed helpful tips, tricks and statistics and brings them into the schools where they belong. Yet the same question was being repeated, "Where is the gap, where is the gap?"
When it came my time to speak on the youth panel, my response to the given prompt was simple: The gap is right here. As a student, I'm told where I need to go but not how to get there or what it will look like.
I started my high school career at a school of over 2,000 kids; I am now a student at a small Career and Technical Education school (CTE) of fewer than 400 kids. I have seen both sides of the spectrum, from drowning in confusion to zoomed-in attention, and I can tell you that kids like me really need is guidance.
When I attended the large high school my freshman year, I was just another face, another number. It took some teachers a full quarter to learn my name. Over my year there, I never met with my guidance counselor. I didn't even know his or her name if I had needed to. The staff was overwhelmed.
The next year I transferred to Vernon Malone CCA and joined their Certified Nursing Aide (CNA) program. I was given something to finally take a real interest in, and the teachers took education to a real world level for me.
Instead of math class being "Johnny has 32 watermelons," it turned into "How much of this will your patient need?" This captivated my attention.
Counselors introduced me to colleges and opportunities that matched the passion that I was very lucky to find. Most kids don't graduate knowing what they want to do or even really where they want to go. I get why. It's because these students don't get the chance to understand what a real-world future could look like.
This is the gap. This is what educators and the community are missing.
We need a community that is supportive and open to students. We need a community that understands that most kids are very eager to learn and are desperately waiting for inspiration to ignite within themselves. We need a community that is willing to help us get where we need to go, whether it's after-school programs, job shadows, internships or simply a figurative ride on the wisdom train.
Yes, teenagers act big and bad but we really don't know what we're doing. We need that helping hand. We need to be shown how to get to a successful future, not just told that we need one. We need to know what a successful future could look like and mean for us. We need guidance.
Anna Populorum is a 17-year-old senior at Vernon Malone College and Career Academy.