By Lou Ponsi
Even during this most unconventional school year, with the coronavirus disrupting virtually every aspect of everyday life, the Capistrano Unified School District’s Futureology program has continued to flourish.
In fact, while many educational programs have had to be downsized or eliminated completely, Futureology has excelled.
Managed by four credentialed college and career counselors, Futureology’s mission is to guide students and their families through the ofttimes daunting and confusing job of choosing a college and pursuing a career.
The program offers one-on-one counseling and hosts workshops and presentations on college and career centered topics.
Futureology also presents what is arguably the most comprehensive college fair in the county.
Not only has Futureology offered the same services during the 2020-21 school year as in past years, shifting from in-person to virtual events has enabled the program to reach more people than ever before.
“We are reaching our families every which way possible,” Counselor Jennifer Manzanares said.
Futureology counselors are based out of The Shops at Mission Viejo mall.
In typical years, the counselors visit high school campuses, hold webinars and coordinate services with counselors and advisors at the high schools.
During the current school year, counselors had more than 600 virtual appointments with students, with the parents often sitting alongside, said Jennifer Manzanares, one of four credentialed college and career counselors in the program.
In these one-one-one sessions, students and families receive advice tailored to each students’ individual situation and academic standing.
Counselors provide a list of potential colleges based on the student’s chosen major, career aspirations and personality type.
“All of this is to educate families on how to successfully go through high school in a way that makes sense developmentally for them from a career and college perspective,” Counselor Bea Nguyen said. “By doing this we are mitigating a lot of frustration and disappointment come senior year.”
From the one-one-one appointments alone, students reported a 35 to 40 percent increase in confidence just from their first meeting, Counselor Kristin Jones said.
“It is pretty significant from a data perspective to see results like that,” Jones said. “The goal is really to empower students, to give them the tools in their toolbox that they need to progress in their planning, and also to have a place to ask questions and to reference for their parents.”
Of the 600 virtual appointments, 182 were for first-generation students, who are defined by the Department of Education as a student whose parents don’t have a four-year degree.
“In the beginning we weren’t really capturing those students,” Manzanares said. “I think the one thing that has made the biggest impact is that students have not had to travel to meet with us. They are able to do it in the comfort of where they are at.”
In addition to the one-on-one sessions, Futureology hosted 52 online events, which drew about 2,500 participants.
The college fair alone averaged 3,000 online.
Events included grade-level orientations for each grade level, webinars related to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impacts on college admissions, a college admissions bootcamp just for parents, a career exploration webinar, and a webinar on financial aid.
The program also offered more than 950 virtual mock tests to students wanting to take practice ACTs and SATs. They plan to continue that in the future.
“That is one of our signature programs that we are proud to continue in the fall,” Manzanares said. “And we look forward to giving students that opportunity to really see where their strengths are.”
Every webinar and counseling session is free for families in the district.
“We are offering the kind of services that families pay for,” Nguyen said. “There is nothing really like it at all. It is extremely unique that our district has it and we are really grateful that we have this opportunity to provide this to families for free.”
As pandemic restrictions ease, Futureology will continue some virtual one-on-one sessions along with larger webinars, Jones said.
Plans are also in place to host hybrid events, the counselor said.
Hearing about the successes of former students is the most gratifying part of their jobs as counselors, Manzanares said.
“We are always happy to hear where our students end up,” Manzanares said. “We are just excited to be part of their journey and that we met with them at one point during their planning process. That is something that as counselors, it keeps us going.”
Learn more at http://www.cusd-futureology.org/.