At Aspire Public Schools, the philosophy is there are multiple pathways to postsecondary success, with the end goal being a job with strong earnings, benefits, and durability in the face of a recession. “Having a college degree can provide some stability,” Estrella said. “Jobs that require a post-secondary degree are more likely to offer health benefits, and the opportunity to work from home, versus having to still be out or losing their job
“It could be a four-year college, community college, trade school,” Estrella said. “We are aligned on making sure students are matriculating to a postsecondary program that aligns with their passions and their interests. Because those are the programs that students are likely to finish on time or early, before their Cal Grant runs out.
“Often we think of college as just four-year schools. We want to make sure our scholars have that opportunity and are prepared for that. Ultimately the decision is in their hands to say, ‘This is what feels best for me and my family after I graduate and continue with my education.’”
That doesn’t mean there are multiple pathways to graduation, though: Aspire’s graduation requirements are aligned to California’s A-G requirements, so a student who graduates an Aspire high school also has the opportunity to be eligible to apply to a UC or CSU school.
In the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, the importance of a college degree has really been highlighted. Because of the strong outcomes it produces, Aspire attracts students of color from low-income families who are the first to go to college and are looking for preparation for post-secondary programs, while also wanting a school environment that honors their family and community cultures.
Along with A-G requirements, Aspire students also have to take the ACT test (paid for by the school) and students must complete 4 years of advisory, 2 years which are specifically focused on post-secondary preparation in 11th and 12th grades.
To graduate, seniors must also create a post-secondary success plan. It’s all about giving students as many opportunities as possible. Teachers check-in with students regularly during advisory, and academic counselors make sure students stay on track. That success often comes full circle, with Aspire graduates returning to their alma mater to teach.
“It’s important that every scholar at our school has the chance to be eligible for a four-year institution,” Estrella said. “We really value student agency. We want our students and their families to be well aware of what the A-G requirements are and why they’re so important.
“Whether they’re going to a four-year college or a two-year college, these courses prepare students to be ready for whatever career they want and give them a solid foundation.”
Making sure courses are aligned to A-G standards adds a level of rigor that prepares students for college, Estrella said. “A student can experience what college is like before they go there. That skill can be transferable across multiple pathways.”