Preparing Hopkins Students for Post-Secondary Success

Preparing Hopkins Students for Post-Secondary Success


Beth Ocar gives a student a high five after reaching an important milestone on her college essay.
Michelle Kuhl collaborates with students in the Royals Prep class.








As anyone who has gone to high school knows, the experience goes by quickly. One minute you are struggling to find your classes and the next you are walking across the graduation stage into your exciting future. Hopkins High School is ensuring that post-secondary planning is intentionally embedded into each student’s high school experience so every Hopkins student is prepared for success after graduation. One way Hopkins is accomplishing this is through the newly created Royals College and Career Center (RCCC).

The RCCC is funded by the Hopkins Education Foundation (HEF) and run by Dr. Michelle Kuhl, a college and career readiness coordinator. The RCCC works in partnership with the counseling office and the wellness center to streamline and expand on the strong foundation that Hopkins High School already has in place. By adding more integrated classes and opportunities, students will be encouraged to think more intentionally and deeply about what they want to do after high school and explore how they will get there. This year, the RCCC will host college prep workshops and a national speaker series, bringing in companies like Nike to help Hopkins students better understand careers that might be available to them.

“The competitive advantage that Hopkins has is that we are not as big as the surrounding schools and the amount of personalized attention you have access to here is incredible,” said Kuhl.

In her work with the RCCC, Kuhl does everything from collaborating with school counselors and hosting visiting colleges to providing personalized career exploration for students. This might be helping a student write a competitive college application essay or reaching out to a professional in the field to make a career connection for a student. Through the RCCC and other college readiness programs, Hopkins High School is empowering students to pave their own path, while also helping them understand what is possible and the systems they need to navigate to get there.

“We are not judgemental about what you want to do, we just want you to be prepared for it,” said Kuhl. “If a student wants to take a gap year, it’s my job to make that a structured experience.”

Royals Prep college readiness class

This year, Hopkins High School is offering a new class called Royals Prep co-taught by Kuhl and English teacher Beth Ocar. Royals Prep blends life skills and the college application process. Students not only earn graduation credit, but they must also apply to at least one college as part of the class.

“There is nothing easy or stress-free about applying for college, so if we can make the process make sense and work for each individual student in a way that is fulfilling to them, that is very impactful,” said Ocar.

Royals Prep has attracted a diverse representation of Hopkins High School students. The aspirations of the students range from those who want to attend Ivy League colleges to technical colleges. Royals Prep aligns well with Hopkins High School’s goal of college readiness as not all students have equal time available to them or even access to resources to apply for college or to prepare for what their life might look like when they get there. Through the class, students are able to navigate college and tech school applications alongside a supportive mentor who is invested in their success and who can ensure their applications are competitive. Even students who feel prepared might realize, upon further reflection through the course, that their plan needs tweaking or to be changed. Allowing students the space and time to reflect aligns them with their highest potential.

“We personalize our coaching for each student and their goals,” said Ocar. “We are seeing a lot of students who were certain they wanted to do one thing realize that they want to do something totally different.”

Making college and tech school accessible to all students

Hopkins High School has several programs in place designed to make the college application process less daunting and free from barriers. The AVID program works with students from populations that are underrepresented in college. In the senior year, the goal of the program is to demystify the college preparation process. AVID teacher Jen Heimlich develops deep relationships with students and their families to support them, helping families select college options and navigate important FAFSA financial aid paperwork that secures loans and grants for college. In the past, AVID was solely focused on placing students in four-year colleges but is now more inclusive of trade programs, two year-colleges, apprenticeships, and other options.

“There are kids who want to go into a trade or the military,” said Heimlich. “We want seniors to have as many opportunities as possible and also have a strong backup plan.”

Another way Hopkins High School is removing barriers to college is through Direct Admission. Hopkins is one of a few high schools that has this partnership, which guarantees placement to hundreds of participating colleges and universities for Hopkins students who are on track to graduate. This program not only offers students more choices, but it also takes the stress out of applying for college and worrying that you may not get accepted. The goal is to remove roadblocks that might prevent students from applying at all.

Personalized approach

Next year, the Hopkins student body will grow by one grade level as ninth graders are added to the mix. With this transition, high school counselors want to encourage students to think about the careers they want to explore as early as possible. At Hopkins High School, students can access job mentorship programs, personal finance classes, ACT and PSAT tutoring programs, college essay support, career assessments, and college readiness classes.

Xeev Xwm Vang, a counselor for students in their junior year, would like students to have a good sense of their natural gifts and what career paths they would like to explore by the time they enter 11th grade. Through assessments like Naviance, students can develop important insights into what they want to do after high school. Vang believes self-discovery can lead students to their personalized career path and wants students to invest in the social capital that is available at Hopkins High School.

“Overall, scholars need to understand that they have access to high-quality resources here at the high school,” he said. “We’re all invested in their success; they should try to seek this out as much as possible.”