Nathan is thinking about becoming a chef; Kenneth intends to be a CEO. Kadijah longs to sing on the Big Stage. If that doesn’t work out, though, no worries: Her Plan B is medical school.

When the Hobsons team visited Thomas Viaduct Middle School in Howard County, Maryland, we asked 11-14 year-olds what they are good at, what they are interested in, and where they might be headed one day, once they get their braces off and survive the rigor of high school.

Their answers were a mixture of hopeful (I think I can do this!), practical (College costs a lot.), cautious (Is this even a good answer?), and determined (I’m working on a plan!)

Clearly, we were not the first adults to ask the questions. The district uses Hobsons’ college and career readiness solution Naviance, which includes Gallup’s Clifton StrengthsExplorer® assessment, to help students identify and use their top strengths as they begin to build their academic and career plans as early as 6th grade. School counselors, teachers, and other school staff use the adult version of Gallup’s assessment to understand and make the most of their own strengths in the classroom.

So at Thomas Viaduct, and at many more Howard County Public Schools, everyone from the principal to the janitor is engaging in college and career readiness, getting to know individual students and learning how to build on their strengths instead of focusing on fixing their weaknesses. And the school district makes sure it counts – for the students and for staff.

“Progress on college and career readiness is part of every performance evaluation for school counselors throughout the district,” says Lisa Boarman, the district’s Coordinator of School Counseling and Related Services. “We challenge them to use data to identify students needing extra support and to measure growth.”

School counselors have embraced the strengths-based approach and are using Naviance’s other features to help students and their parents engage in more meaningful conversations about their career dreams and education plans.

“Without the tool, we were spoon-feeding every piece of information and spending half an hour asking 15 questions about their goals; now we’re empowering them to get some of the information on their own and to communicate with us,” says Kami Wagner, the district’s Resource Counselor. “Now when I meet with you one-on-one, I already know all this stuff about you. Now let’s talk more deeply about what that means for you.”

Counselors also are using Naviance surveys to identify students with common experiences and backgrounds to better target their college readiness efforts. By identifying first-generation college-going students, for example, some schools are tailoring their approach to provide additional support to families as they navigate the college application and financial aid process. And two high schools in the district have secured a state grant to work with homeless students and their families to prepare for life after high school, engaging mentors to work with each student on college and career exploration, search for scholarships, and even provide transportation for them and their parents to visit nearby campuses.

The district’s efforts have drawn the attention of the White House and have resulted in positive media coverage for the district, building its reputation as a district dedicated to every student at every school.

Because in the end, setting students like Nathan, Kenneth, Kadiyah, and their friends on a solid path to their futures is what it’s all about.

To hear more from the students and counselors at Thomas Viaduct, watch this video.


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