Navigating the Path to Post-High School Success: A Journey with the College and Career Centers

Navigating the Path to Post-High School Success: A Journey with the College and Career Centers


The Education to Financial Stability Task Force (EFSTF), convened by United Way of Thurston County, is a group of experts in different fields who are working together to help break the cycle of poverty in Thurston County. 

They have identified a gap in high school seniors pursuing continuing education and found that the difference in earnings between a non-skilled job and one requiring a technical certificate can be as much as $750,000 over a working career. They also noticed that, even with financial aid available, fewer than 50% of Thurston County students completed the FAFSA application, which ensures anyone who wants to pursue further education can do so, regardless of family, household or individual income. They also learned most barriers to pursuing continuing education were related to lack of information, trust and direct connections.

To address these issues, the EFSTF funded Navigator positions that are hosted through partnerships with Yelm and North Thurston High Schools.  The Navigators focus on supporting vulnerable student populations who continue to be underrepresented in dual credit and post K-12 educational opportunities.  The goal is to expand the pilot into permanent Navigator placements at all Thurston County high schools.

The navigators have had success. One example: FAFSA completion rates increased from 30% to 42% in just two months at Yelm High School. The Task Force is now working to expand the program to all high school and middle-school students, and to add case managers at SPSCC to increase the completion and 4-yr college transfer rate from 50% (highest in Washington State) to a national benchmark.

George Castro, M.Ed. is an Admissions Specialist, Outreach Navigator-Ignite & Black Scholars, and works at North Thurston and Timberline High Schools. Here's his story:

"As a Navigator, I have had the privilege of working with Timberline and North Thurston High School students to help them transition to college or career opportunities after graduation. This is achieved through the College and Career Centers, a partnership that provides comprehensive support services in both English and Spanish.

Our students face a wide range of challenges, from completing college applications to finding the right university. Many are first-generation college students, and need assistance with financial aid, scholarships, and navigating the often-complex world of higher education. Other students require support with high school completion, military entrance exams, or finding apprenticeships and internships that match their skills and interests.

In my role, I work with students in a variety of settings, from facilitating workshops on goal setting, college applications, and FAFSA/WASFA, to providing one-on-one support for students and families. Whether working in the classroom or in private, my goal is always the same: to help each student overcome personal and academic challenges and achieve success after graduation.

For me, working as a Navigator has been an incredibly rewarding experience. I have seen first-hand the impact that a little support and guidance can have on a student's life, and it has been a privilege to be a part of that journey.

I have had the privilege of working with students from all walks of life, helping them navigate the path to post-high school success. But there is one moment that stands out above all the rest. It was an evening spent with a first-generation student from Cambodia and her father, and it was a testament to the power of perseverance and determination.

This student was an English learner with a dream of becoming an Army Nurse. Despite facing numerous challenges, including a lower GPA, she was determined to make her dream a reality. With my help, we filled out the FAFSA, applied to a college to complete her DTAS in Nursing, and transferred to PLU to join the Army ROTC program.

I will never forget the look of gratitude on this student's face as we worked together to bring her dream to life. Her perseverance and determination inspired me, and I was honored to be a part of her journey."