Transitioning to the great wide open

Outgoing SWOS students learn future options

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Sam Green/Cortez Journal PARENTS Brenda and Skip Hanstein talk about scholarships and financial aid with Southwest Open School assistant director Dave Finlay.

The end of high school is a milestone to be celebrated. It evokes strong, sometimes conflicting emotions: relief, nostalgia, excitement, nerves. It's also a crossroads with big, open-ended questions.

What do I want to do? Who do I want to become? Where should I go? How do I get there?

On Tuesday evening, Southwest Open School officials met with students and family members. It was the charter school's second annual Transitions Night.

"The goal is to help students plan for the future, after they leave here," director Jennifer Carter said. "Are they cut out for the workforce or continuing (education)?"

Carter said the idea for Transitions Night came about when SWOS administrators noticed a problem. Their students, many with difficult backgrounds or learning styles at odds with a conventional school setting, had done the hard work to improve their grades and satisfy the credits needed to graduate. But once it came time to leave SWOS' nurturing confines, they were unsure how to proceed.

The administrators decided to, at one place on one night, pull their career staff together, and bring in area organizations that specialize in helping young adults find a foothold in the workforce. They also tried to involve more family.

"We realized bringing parents into the conversation was a big part of this," she said.

The majority of students who showed up Tuesday were accompanied by a parent or other family member.

Together they browsed information tables, learned about scholarships and got help filling out financial aid forms.

Representatives from Southwest Colorado Community College, the Colorado Workforce Center, Unlimited Learning and Southwest Conservation Corps were available to answer questions and pass out brochures.

Some students, like Michael Gray, already had a plan. The 19-year-old, graduating in May, is off to Glenwood Springs this fall to study culinary arts at Colorado Mountain College. He dreams of becoming a chef - pasta dishes are his specialty - and in a few years opening a restaurant of his own. Gray applied for $5,500 worth of scholarships to help pay for tuition.

Others are less certain.

Audrianna York, also 19, will take a year off between graduation and college to explore different careers. She likes childcare and teaching - "it'd be awesome to come back here and teach," she said - but remains undecided.

York is disappointed to leave SWOS. She credits the teachers with getting her back on track academically after transferring from Montezuma-Cortez High School. Small class sizes and the experiential model were a better learning environment for her.

"I thought college was out of the question until I joined SWOS," she said. "It changed my life for the better."

Carter believes Transitions Night, even in its early stages, has paid off. More students are taking advantage of internships and scholarships they weren't aware of before, she said. And while not everyone has a concrete plan of action moving forward, at least they know the options.

Carter was pleased with the turnout, saying it was four times bigger than last year.

lukeg@cortezjournal.com

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Sam Green/Cortez Journal Jennifer Carter, director of Southwest Open School, discusses post-graduation prospects with a student at Transitions Night on Tuesday.