Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Oh, the places Porcupines can go

SHS creates place for students to think about their futures with Go Center

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SPRINGTOWN — Unlike some of her peers, Springtown High School senior Stoli Cox doesn’t want to leave high school, but come May, she’ll have to.

Fortunately, Cox has taken control over her future path, thanks to guidance from career, college and military readiness counselor Aimee Burtnett who operates SHS’ Go Center.

Cox has planned for a career in elementary education. She wants to go to Weatherford College and get certified to teach, and then she wants to go back to school for a master’s degree to be an assistant principal. While being an educator had always been Cox’s goal, she recalled being confused about her future when she went to talk with Burtnett. Cox said Burtnett found answers to her questions and even arranged for her to talk with a representative from Weatherford College’s education program.

“She is a great human being and will listen to whatever you have to say, no matter if it's school related,” Cox said about Burtnett. “She also has a daughter who is an eighth grader, and so she understands us girls, and she understands how our brain works. . . . She's so on top of everything for us.”

After she graduates from SHS, Cox knows she can still contact Burtnett, and that is comforting to her as she advances to a whole new world of higher education.

“Jumping in from a senior in high school to a freshman in college is just such a big, scary thing to do, and just to have someone who is back at home who understands you more than your college professors understand you or your college counselors understand you, it will help so much,” Cox said.

The Go Center was established in the fall as a place for students to visit with Burtnett and prepare for their futures.

“The Go Center is for every single student in the building,” SHS Principal Melissa Hutchison said. “The reason why we call it a Go Center essentially is because when they come into this center, they're going to be talking about anywhere that they can go in their future. So, it's not just for college.”

Burtnett’s job has a wide scope. She helps students figure out what they want to do in the future, coordinates field trips for them, hosts speakers to talk with the kids and oversees college testing preparations at the Go Center.

“It’s trying to figure out what classes can you be in now that also can be part of the goal that you're trying to achieve when you graduate,” Hutchison said. “We have three other counselors who advise our students on their graduation plan. Ms. Burtnett comes in and actually helps connect that graduation plan to post graduation essentially.”

The goal is for students to graduate from SHS ready for either college, a career or military enlistment and for them to pursue a fulfilling path, Burtnett said.

“More than likely, you’re going to have to work, so you might as well do something that you want to do and you enjoy and love doing instead of something that you have to do,” Burtnett said about what she says to students. “It makes a huge difference. Not that every day the job is going to be great, and life is going to be perfect. But I tell them it's so much more enjoyable when you're going to do something that you love and enjoy and you're passionate about.”

Burtnett also takes some of the workload off the other academic advisers who work with over 1,100 students on meeting graduation requirements as well as providing social and emotional support when needed.

“I pushed for not only the Go Center, but specifically for the CCMR counselor, because I knew that was going to take a little bit off the plate of the other counselors, but also let Ms. Burtnett really own a very, very important part of our job, which is to make sure students feel empowered to chase their dreams and their aspirations and their goals at the same time,” Hutchison said.

One of the most rewarding parts of Burtnett’s job has been watching students progress from being closed-minded about post-graduation to exploring their options and then getting excited about their future. When kids are accepted to college, trade school or the military, Burtnett takes their picture, noting their accomplishment, and hangs it on the wall for all to see.

“I think sometimes it's just making them believe they can do it,” she said.

Burtnett hopes to find pathways even for students who struggle in their classes.

“I tell kids all the time they have a uniqueness,” she said. “There's something that they're very good at, and it may not be testing, and it may not be an academic course, but they are talented, and they have a passion for something. It doesn't matter where you are in your class or your GPA. There are still possibilities for you.”

Hutchison wants kids to understand they have options. In career and technical education, there are some pathways where they can earn college credit, a certification and work experience.

“Don't say you can't go to college; you have the skill set. It's just what type of schooling,” she said about her messaging to students. “I want kids to feel like they always have the opportunity, but I also want them to feel like if they want to go directly into the career workforce that they can.”

What high schoolers say about Go Center

It didn’t take long for students to find out about the new center. In addition to spreading the word internally, Hutchison said the Go Center was intentionally placed near the cafeteria to attract students. Burtnett even offered candy as an extra incentive to stop by. Now, the center is often buzzing with students.

“If you don't shut the door, these kids are in here all the time, which is a great problem,” Hutchison said.

Senior Wesley Shaw said Burtnett’s office by the cafeteria is more accessible than the previous space she had as an academic counselor, and he enjoys the atmosphere of the Go Center.

“It's just so peaceful in here, just so quiet that you can actually think and get to talking, and she can help you do whatever you need,” Shaw said.

Junior Mariah Price also prefers the Go Center to Burtnett’s previous office, particularly the fact that she can take certain tests in the Go Center.

“I’m not a good test-taker in a big group,” Price said. “Now when I go to take my (Texas Success Initiative Assessment) again, I’m going to take it in here, and (Burtnett) will provide private testing, pretty much, so you can just test by yourself and not have to worry about it because I tend to rush when I’m around other people.”

Students interviewed by The Tri-County Reporter said the Go Center (Burtnett, specifically) has been helpful to them overall. Senior Allison Ford said Burtnett has shown that she is also supportive of the high schoolers outside of career planning, such as by cheering them on at sports events.

“She’s very involved in everyone’s life, knows what we all want to do with our future,” Ford said. “She’ll ask us where we’re at with that, which is nice. And if we have any questions, she always has the answer.”

Burtnett said she tries to treat the students like she would her own kids.

“I want them to feel like they're always welcome and that there's no question they can't ask or that can't be answered,” she said. 

Shaw remembers being introduced to Burtnett as a counselor when he transitioned into high school. He credited Burtnett with encouraging him to take dual credit courses that have helped him get closer to his goal of becoming an engineer.

“Without her, I don't think I would be getting all these college credits I have now, which would be really costly without it,” he said.

Having the Go Center available to freshmen and sophomores may give them the opportunity to plan ahead instead of waiting for their senior years, Ford said.

“I wasn’t really familiar with applying to colleges or scholarships or any of that kind of stuff, and I feel like (I) definitely would have enjoyed being able to plan that ahead of time as a sophomore or as a freshman,” Ford said. “I think upcoming freshmen will really enjoy being able to ask her questions and not wait until their senior year like I know a lot of us did because I know I did. I didn’t know. I literally applied for college in her room because I had never really known how to do it.”

Burtnett said she wants the younger students to utilize the Go Center so that they’ll have an idea of what they want to do after graduation going into their senior years.

“It's not too young as a freshman to start talking to these recruiters, to start kind of navigating and figuring out, ‘Where would I like to go or what is it that I’d like to do?’” she said.

Senior Madison Maynard, who initially knew Burtnett as an academic adviser, changed her mind about what career path she wanted to pursue a few times before finally settling on the goal of becoming a traveling labor and delivery nurse. Maynard said Burtnett was part of this process of picking the best choice for her.

“She’s just assured me to follow what I’m most interested in,” Maynard said.

Applying for college or for financial aid can be intimidating, especially for students who would be the first in their families to pursue higher education. Burtnett hopes to make the process doable by breaking it up into steps and giving kids the guidance and confidence they need to get through the applications and phone calls.

“My biggest goal is I never want a kid to say, ‘Forget this. This is too complicated. This is too frustrating,’” Burtnett said.

Price is looking into a career in forensics and wants to graduate from high school with her associate degree. She has depended on Burtnett for guidance since she is the first in her family to go to college and has to focus on finding affordable options.

“Everything became real this year because I know I’m going to able to do it and everything now,” Price said. “Before, it was like worrying about if I’m going to able to make it or not, and obviously, that’s not something you want to think about because what if you don’t make it? But Ms. Burtnett helped make sure that it’s all set in stone. As long as I keep it going, I don’t have to worry about it.”

Navigating the cost of higher education can also be challenging for students, and Burtnett aims to help demystify the financial aid and loan process as well as narrow down options that are more affordable. She also tries to instill responsibility and a degree of self-sufficiency in the students.

“When they go to college, they got to be an advocate for themselves, or trade school or whatever it is,” she said. “They'll always be able to contact me, and I tell them that. I will always be here for any of them. But they've got to learn because when you go to those places, they don't want to talk to mom or dad. They want to visit with that student. So, I think sometimes it's getting some of them to get the courage to realize, ‘I can handle this. I can do this. I can call and ask this question.’”

Shaw called the Go Center a “game changer” and said he was able to find out which college to go to, what his major should be and work on getting scholarships through the center.

“Ms. Burtnett is probably the best college counselor that I’ll ever have,” he said.