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Regional educators prepare to launch and expand programs to help more students design the futures they want.
Horizons Regional Grant

Renton, WA – According to a recent study from Washington STEM, nearly 90 percent of high school students say they want to pursue a post-high school education, yet only 50 percent went on to enroll in a post-secondary program after graduation in 2022. A partnership in South King County is working to close that gap, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has charged itself with helping to make post-secondary education attainable for all students in Washington. The foundation’s newly announced Horizons Regional Grant is another step toward making sure that all students who want to attend college can do so and achieve the futures they want.

Thanks to the Horizons grant, the partnership between Puget Sound Educational Service District 121 (PSESD), Highline College, Highline Public Schools, Federal Way Public Schools, and the Tukwila School District now aims to help make this a reality. Together, the partnership will learn and leverage best practices to ensure that all students, especially Black and brown students, complete a post-secondary credential on their paths through their educations. Partnership members will utilize one of the grant’s most important aspects—the opportunity to research and collect data about what practices are working well—and use that data to further determine if and how those practices could be implemented across the region going forward.

“We are excited to move forward with our partners as we launch our strategies and initiatives for taking part in the Horizons Grant program,” comments Puget Sound ESD Superintendent John Welch. “The partnership will be intentional in understanding the complexities of the Black and brown male scholar experience leading up to post-secondary direct enrollment,” adds Welch. “Through the understanding of the lived experience of these scholars, our aim is to develop a cohesive system of culturally informed advising and support that results in increased attendance, graduation, and post-secondary enrollment pathways for these scholars.”

With the Puget Sound ESD serving as the partnership’s coordinator, the school districts will work with Highline College to test ideas that show promise in helping students to reach their post-high school goals. At Tukwila School District, current practices showing promise include student outcomes centered on ninth grade success, encompassing the initiation of “high school and beyond” planning starting in eighth grade, ensuring on-time credit attainment for ninth grade students, and implementing a comprehensive support system for students facing challenges, including assistance from staff members such as family liaisons and college and career specialists.

“Local partnerships are paramount for ensuring our students' success,” comments Dr. Concie Pedroza, Superintendent for the Tukwila School District. “We are actively seeking strategic collaboration with Highline College, with a particular focus on supporting our Black and brown youth, as well as our students in special education. Additionally, I deeply appreciate the coordination we currently have with Federal Way and Highline Public Schools through our Puget Sound Skill Center. We aim to elevate this partnership to better target and support our students who require the most focused attention."

At Highline Public Schools (HPS), the Horizons program provides the opportunity for learning from and with students, families, and staff about the current practices that are most effective while also providing the opportunity to identify areas to strengthen its student advising practices. One of the primary strategies at HPS involves integrating opportunities into the school day to ensure intentional student engagement in post-secondary exploration. For instance, a required career site visit is scheduled for all tenth grade students as part of their High School and Beyond Plan, removing the need for students to opt-in for participation. Student career sites are also determined based on their career pathways of interest to help students to solidify their career-goal plans.

“This funding will empower our dedicated staff to guide students towards post-secondary opportunities aligned with their unique interests, skills, and cultural values,” comments Dr. Ivan Duran, Superintendent of Highline Public Schools. “Through this commitment, we fulfill our Highline Promise, ensuring students are well prepared for the future they choose.”

The Highline Promise aims to reduce barriers and close equity gaps. The district's strategic plan has four key goals, including ensuring that all students are future-ready and that schools create a culture of belonging where all students are welcome, valued, and safe.

At Highline College, students involved in the Highline Promise Partnership have demonstrated that being engaged in campus activities and navigating college for the first time as part of a cohort all continue to increase retention and a sense of belonging.

“The Horizons grant provides Highline College and our K12 partners in Federal Way, Highline and Tukwila with the resources to elevate students from our BIPOC communities and activate programming to get these students enrolled in career training and college programs,” comments President John Mosby of Highline College. “PSESD provides a critical link as our backbone organization in this partnership, as we can continue to make the transitions for students from K12 to higher ed and post-secondary programs more seamless through greater communication and coordination between our professional staff and educators and structural improvements. Our Black and brown scholars will not travel these paths alone. They will be part of cohorts and will benefit from intensive advising and peer navigation. We will know these efforts are successful when these current students are the leaders and mentors in our community, and successive cohorts are benefitting from their leadership and guidance.”

At Federal Way Public Schools (FWPS), the partnership will help district leadership to learn and collaborate with the goal of implementing or improving strategies to support students along the path to college. Current efforts focused around creating college-ready transcripts and ensuring completion of the FAFSA are seeing positive results, with higher rates of student engagement in rigorous coursework throughout high school, as well as steadily growing FAFSA completion rates, which are consistently well above the state average. The Horizons grant program will allow opportunities to collaborate and build partnerships to create the pathways and support necessary for more students to attend and thrive in college.

“One of our greatest assets at Federal Way Public Schools is the broad linguistic, cultural, and racial diversity of our school district,” notes Dr. Dani Pfeiffer, Superintendent at Federal Way Public Schools. “Our FAFSA completion rates have steadily increased for the last several years, with steady college-going rates, and some of the highest numbers of scholars enrolled in advanced coursework in our region. Participation in Horizons ensures that we are continuing to position our young people to seize the very bright futures they want.”

About Horizons:

Horizons is part of the Gates Foundation’s work in Washington state that focuses on ensuring that young people have access to the opportunities they need to design the future they want. PSESD and its partners also participate in the Limitless Learning Network, which is funded by the foundation and brings twenty-six local partnerships across Washington state together to help identify strategies that help students to see a clear path to success after high school.

About PSESD:

PSESD is one of nine regional service districts serving 35 local school districts, ten charter schools, 291 private schools, and two tribal compact schools in King and Pierce counties and Bainbridge Island. PSESD develops and delivers an array of services providing instructional and administrative support to PreK-12 schools, as well as direct service to students and families in the Puget Sound region. Its End Goal is “Success for Each Child & Eliminate the Opportunity Gap by Leading with Racial Equity”—a goal that envisions a future filled with peace, hope, and opportunities for young people to thrive.

For more information about PSESD’s Horizons Regional Grant, please contact Jonathan Joseph at jjoseph@psesd.org or Elizabeth Cook at ecook@psesd.org.

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Horizons Regional Grant

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