Today’s educators continue to seek out opportunities to gain leadership skills, generate better student outcomes, and improve teaching and learning. By attending a program through Professional Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, educators can immerse themselves in the latest research, learn from HGSE faculty, and engage with a community of practice. Recently, we asked one past participant to share a “Day-in-the-Life” account of his attendance at an on-campus program – explaining key takeaways from Day One, as well as discussing the overall learning experience and the impact the program had on his organization and educational practice. Here’s what we learned:
Alpachino Hogue has spent his entire professional career focused on college admissions and counseling – first working with universities in Missouri and Arizona, before moving to LINK Unlimited Scholars, a Chicago-based non-profit dedicated to preparing disadvantaged African-American youth for success before, during, and after college.
Yet, after four years at LINK, he knew his organization was at a crossroads. Long-focused on college readiness, LINK had started transitioning toward helping students succeed during their post-secondary experience.
“We had begun thinking through the college success part, making sure what our role was in helping our students graduate,” Alpachino explained. “We were looking how to do our work better, looking for a boost of energy, and searching for some fresh ideas.”
To make that happen, Alpachino turned to Post-Secondary Success: In Schools, Communities, and Families. This four-day on-campus program helps educators and community-based professionals identify tools, strategies, and frameworks that can help them prepare students to succeed in post-secondary environments. Through a combination of interactive discussions with HGSE faculty, small group meetings, research explorations, and personal reflection, participants analyze key issues related to post-secondary success and engage with a vibrant community of learners.
Day One: Attending Post-Secondary Success
From a session that garnered a “wow” to an important discussion on an emerging student population, the first full day of content truly resonated with Alpachino.
The day opened with a session led by Faculty Chair Mandy Savitz-Romer, entitled “Applying a Developmental Lens to Promoting Post-Secondary Success.” For Alpachino, the session elevated his thinking around working with college-bound teens – sparking thought-provoking questions and even giving him a new vocabulary.
“What skills do we need to be thinking about developing in high school students so that they are ready to navigate a college campus?” he asked. “How do you even help them to think about pathways and also consider the roadblocks that come up, so they can think of sub-goals and be successful. And that was not really vocabulary I had before coming to Post-Secondary Success – I really didn’t. I just did the work.”
He also saw an immediate connection to his work at LINK during a discussion facilitated by Anthony Jack, Assistant Professor of Education, called “Who’s Afraid of Office Hours? (Who Knows What They Even Are?).”
“Tony Jack’s research on the privileged poor represents the exact set of students we work with because we give them scholarships to go to private high schools. It was the exact same thing – that part alone, was ‘wow.’”
Alpachino went on to say that the session also offered clarity around some questions and concerns he and his team in Chicago had been having.
“We’re investing all of this money and sending these kids to all these great schools, so why aren’t 100% of them graduating college?” he wondered. “And now, after Post-Secondary Success, we have the language and data that offer us a better understanding about the roadblocks and the tough experiences these students take on when they go to a college campus. We can only change the system so much, so how can we bring to light these issues that are so pervasive?”
Professor of Education Roberto Gonzales’ session on “What Can We Learn from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals?” offered Alpachino unexpected insight on the reality of the 5.5 million students with undocumented status.
“Our facilitator said that the likelihood that a practitioner will engage with a student or parent who is undocumented is very likely these days,” Alpachino recalled. “She said it’s as likely as working with a student from a divorced family.”
Though Alpachino does not typically work with students in this area, the session helped him recognize the important role that educators and community leaders play in addressing the needs of these students.
“People think, ‘if this isn’t in my district, then it isn’t important,’ but the country is changing so much that even though it’s not in your district today, in five years it likely will be,” he said. “What are we doing now to prepare ourselves, our policies, and our professional development tools, so we are ready to best support these students? That was something I had never really thought about before.”
The Learning Environment and Experience
Post-Secondary Success was both Alpachino’s first experience in attending a program at HGSE – and his first time back in school since graduating from college – so he initially did not have a clear idea of what to expect.
“This was really my introduction to Harvard,” he explained. “You get admitted to this program, and it’s very exciting, and then you’re also trying to figure out what is the experience going to be like.”
Alpachino explained that he found the program so productive because the structure took into account the experiences of all participants – no one was expected to sit and simply listen. “You got to engage and share your perspective.”
In addition, Post-Secondary Success featured ample opportunities for engaging with faculty members during content sessions, as well as interacting with participants during facilitated discussion groups.
Referring to his fellow cohort members, he described them as “good people, really on fire. Folks were vulnerable enough to say the parts they didn’t understand,” Alpachino explained. “It was nice to relate to them, and say, ‘yeah we don’t understand, either.’ Just think about it, when as a professional do you get the opportunity to put down your guard and lay your cards on the table, and say ‘we do all these great things, but here’s where we are struggling. Can you help me? Have you done this before?’ So that was a really nice safe space to be able to do that kind of learning with people.”
Alpachino described the atmosphere of Post-Secondary Success as “professional but laid back” and said cohort members’ accessibility and light-hearted approach to small-group discussions balanced out the sometimes-difficult subject matter.
“Folks were serious and making contributions to the learning environment,” he explained. “I didn’t leave feeling overburdened by despair, which is easy to do in education.”
Post-Secondary Success: A Lasting Impact
Looking back, Alpachino said he found the format and structure of the Post-Secondary Success experience to be valuable, saying it offered him the opportunity to identify both new challenges and new solutions.
“I would say this experience is different than going to a national or regional conference. It’s smaller, it’s much more intimate, and the concentration of learning is higher,” he explained. “Through it all, there’s a clear connection from one section to the next – it’s much more nuanced and complex than just going to a workshop for an hour.”
Alpachino said the new skills and ideas identified at Post-Secondary Success were readily transferable to LINK, enabling him to jumpstart conversations with his colleagues, saying, “we’re not doing this as well as we think we are, let’s change.”
One of these new ideas stemmed from a discussion led by Senior Lecturer on Education Karen Mapp. Alpachino said he was able to take her insights on how family engagement can impact student achievement and applied it directly to LINK. Prior to Post-Secondary Success, his team had been having conversations around ways to create a more welcoming environment for parents at LINK, and afterwards, the team reinstated its former Parents’ Association.
“We got it off the ground, got the parents engaged, and eliminated a lot of these barriers we were creating,” he said. “It was really an ‘ah-ha’ moment.”
Ultimately, Alpachino had an “ah-ha” moment of his own when his Post-Secondary Success experience inspired him to return to school. Explaining the program gave him “a hunger to learn more,” he is currently completing a master’s degree in Education Policy and Management at HGSE and working as a graduate research assistant with Professional Education.
“The program gave me more clarity on what space in education I wanted to work in and led me here,” Alpachino said, adding that he recently learned he has been accepted into the Doctor in Education Leadership (Ed.L.D.) program at HGSE.
As Post-Secondary Success transformed Alpachino’s workplace, career aspirations, and desire for learning, he highly recommends the experience for educators seeking new avenues for helping students succeed.
“You can detach and really immerse yourself in the learning,” he said. “And to do it at a place like this, on a beautiful campus, it’s a unique opportunity.”
The next session of Post-Secondary Success: In Schools, Communities, and Families takes place from June 22 – 25, 2020, on campus at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The final deadline to apply is May 25, 2020. Click here to request more information.