September 2023: How education can be more student-led

February 10th, 2023

Angela Jones, Director of the Washington State Initiative, takes to the stage during the Washington State Initiative Launch in Seattle, Washington, on June 14, 2023.

Director’s Note

Fall has always been a great time of reflection for me. Part of that was related to my responsibility as an educator each time we kicked off a new school year. The other reason is related to celebrating yet another trip around the sun every September. I just celebrated trip #52 and am reflecting deeply on whether or not I’m making an impact. I know the best way to answer that question is to talk with the students and communities we’re trying to support.

My team and I are partnering with many of you to ensure that students have not just a voice, but also a role in transforming education. I hope you’ll scroll down to explore a few examples of what this can look like in our state, and we’re committed to lifting up even more best practices in the future.

September 15 also marked the start of National Hispanic Heritage Month, commemorating several historic and significant events in Latin American history. Across the state, we have a rich Latino community, and throughout the next month we’ll highlight some Latino leaders who are working to create opportunities for Latino students and communities across Washington. Be sure to keep an eye on our website and social media for these profiles!

Angela Jones
Director, Washington State Initiative

How Kitsap Strong students are driving change

Eden Parry, Leyla Noel and Ebony Noel pose at the Future Bound Convening in Bremerton on June 13, 2023.

It’s one thing to ask students about their opinions. It’s another thing to let them drive change. That’s exactly what Kitsap Strong’s Future Bound program is trying to do.

  • A Youth Leadership Team recently provided recommendations to more than 100 school and community leaders.
  • The recommendations were based on the Youth Leadership Team’s experiences and conversations with their peers.

What they recommended: The students focused on three ways local high schools can help more young people take the next step after graduation:

  • More academic and mental health counselors
  • More college and career programming held during school hours
  • Stronger connections to students’ career interests

The Youth Leadership Team is now working to implement these recommendations in partnership with Kitsap Strong high schools.

Why it matters: As Future Bound facilitator Promise Partner notes, “I want to lean into action with the youth so that schools and the community are not just listening to their voices but actually making changes based on their recommendations.”

That’s something all of us who work in education can learn from.

Learn more: How Kitsap Strong is Empowering Students to Change Education Systems

Elevating Student Voices is part of our Washington State Strategy

Panelist Marisol Johnson (left) speaks as Donalda Brantley looks on at the Washington State Initiative Launch in Seattle, Washington, on June 14, 2023.

We believe that communities should follow the lead of our young people’s aspirations.

  • Nearly 90% of Washington’s high schoolers say they want to pursue some kind of education after graduation.
  • Over the summer, we asked students to share their perspectives on the joy and barriers they feel continuing their education after high school.
  • We also asked community organizations how they are centering students in their decisions.

What they shared: Students said they want more personalized support that matches their needs and interests.

  • This is why we’re investing in high-quality advising in regions throughout Washington.
  • Community leaders encouraged groups to bring a diverse set of student voices to the table – because each student is unique, and so are their needs.
  • They also encouraged organizations to take a long-term view with student engagement.

Why it matters: We cannot design solutions that we think students want and need. We need to design programs that meet students where they are and reflect what students actually want and need.

Learn more: Elevating Student Voices is Part of our Washington State Strategy

Get up to date on Better FAFSA

two high schoolers in a school library

The 2024-25 FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) will be available in December 2023. While FAFSA applications usually open October 1 for high school seniors, the delay this year is for positive reasons:

  • The new FAFSA form will be shorter and less complex.
  • More students will be eligible for Pell Grants, and the average Pell award will be larger.

A new website, Better FAFSA 101, was created to help students and families better understand these changes.

Why it matters: The FAFSA is the best route to accessing financial aid that will help students unlock any career pathway they’d like to explore.

  • Seniors who complete the FAFSA are 84% more likely to immediately enroll in postsecondary education, including apprenticeships and career certification programs.
  • Right now, despite having one of the most generous state financial aid programs in the country, Washington state ranks 49th in the country in FAFSA completion.

Raising awareness about the new FAFSA, and what it offers, may help more students in Washington complete the form and pursue their post-high school dreams.

Learn more:

A high schooler explores Washington’s dual credit programs

Students work in a classroom at Global Connections High School in Seattle, WA on February 11, 2016.

IB. CTE. AP. There are a lot of programs today that help Washington state students earn college credits while still in high school.

  • These dual credit programs can reduce college costs while also exposing students to college and career pathways.
  • Stand for Children’s high school intern Aseela Galeeb examined the state of Washington’s dual credit programs today.

What she found: While dual credit programs are benefiting students, they are not accessible to all students due to barriers like cost.

  • At Zillah High School, for example, only 35 of 120 sophomores took the school’s U.S History College in the High School course because of the required fees.

Why it matters: As Aseela discovered, some students of color, rural students, and students from low-income communities still face barriers to accessing dual credit programs.

  • While 59% of Washington students currently complete a non-CTE dual-credit class in high school, that drops to 56% for Black students, 43% for students from low-income backgrounds, and 32% for Indigenous students.
  • We must look at solutions that give students equitable access to these programs that can help them design their futures.

Learn more: Perspectives: The State of Washington’s Dual Credit Courses Today

Your Questions, Answered.

Every month, we’ll answer your questions about our Washington state work.

Q: You mentioned a focus on high-quality advising. What’s the Gates Foundation’s definition of high-quality advising programs?

A: There isn’t a standard definition that outlines the specific elements programs need to qualify as high-quality advising, but there are several components we consider. That includes a focus on building a strong college- and career-going mindset, and helping students explore college and career opportunities.

Other components include guidance on course-taking to reach a student’s post-high school goals, and support to leverage the High School and Beyond Plan. Strong advising also increases a student’s knowledge of how to access and benefit from financial aid.

Finally, we know that personalized support makes a big difference for students and families. That includes personalized relationships with students to understand their needs.

Got Additional Questions?

Do you have questions about our new education strategy in Washington state? You can submit them here. We’ll continue to answer the most-asked questions in future editions.

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