It’s a story we hear all too often: Student leaves high school with no real plan for the future, floats aimlessly for a few semesters in college, then drops out and returns home saddled with debt.
Tim Hanner set out to change that sad refrain after retiring as superintendent of Kenton County Schools four and a half years ago. He founded NaviGo College and Career Prep Services, and he and his staff have guided and coached local high school students to success in college and careers through a variety of initiatives — one of which is the NaviGo Scholars program administered through the Northern Kentucky Education Council.
A new partnership forged by Skyward connects 13 high school juniors from Bellevue, Dayton, Holmes, Ludlow, Newport and Walton-Verona high schools with employees of Northern Kentucky’s Sanitation District No. 1 (SD1). The groups will meet monthly to explore a variety of environmental science topics and potential careers.
“It’s been shown that students who find their purpose and map out a path for fulfilling it not only thrive themselves but also help our community thrive,” Skyward President Bill Scheyer says, echoing one of the primary goals of the myNKY regional plan.
Along with Skyward, Hanner and his team are currently exploring similar partnerships with Toyota, Mazak and other area employers.
NKY Thrives spoke with Hanner about recent successes of the program, currently in its second year, as well as NaviGo’s efforts to address specific needs within education, employment and Northern Kentucky’s overall economic success.
How does NaviGo Scholars differ from traditional college readiness programs?
We designed the NaviGo curriculum to empower students — our motto is “Empowering Students for Life” — and assist them in choosing postsecondary institutions, exploring financial aid and grant opportunities, filling out forms and figuring out what they want to do — and, equally important, what they don’t want to do — with their lives. In that way we’re a lot like other college readiness programs.
But what we do differently with NaviGo Scholars is give employers a way to identify and engage with future employees and begin shaping them for opportunities. Northern Kentucky has a lot of workforce need. We’ve tried to address it at the high school level with career fairs and such, but those are limited and don’t allow for deep connections to be made. We forge those connections with a goal that, by their senior year, students have at least three viable options beyond high school.
And one way you do that is through partnerships like the NaviGo Scholars program with SD1.
The partnership with SD1 is the first we’ve attempted of its kind. SD1 has a need for graduates who are skilled in environmental science, Skyward has goals for Northern Kentucky and NaviGo has access to the right students — so we all worked together to develop criteria for things like age, aptitude and skill level.
It’s come to be seen more as an honors type of program that recruits mainly juniors and seniors. For the students, it’s real world. They apply knowing there are no guarantees, and if they’re selected it’s an honor.
What is the selection process like?
The selection process for SD1 was phenomenal. They brought in professionals to review student applications, and it was interesting to watch that debate, pushing and challenging each other, making the case for certain students over others.
You said this was the first time that NaviGo worked with Skyward to connect students with employers. How was that approach beneficial?
This not only helps meet the needs of SD1 by connecting the agency to future environmental scientists and environmental specialists, but it also helps achieve Skyward’s goals in our community. It’s taking two agencies and meeting both of their needs, all while assisting students with reaching their dreams.
What evidence are you seeing, anecdotal or otherwise, that the NaviGo Scholars program is achieving results?
We’re about halfway through our second year of the program, and we had some very good feedback from year one that reinforced how long Kentucky has needed this program. Research shows that deeper relationships result in higher success, and that’s the positive feedback we’re hearing from students, business leaders and educators.
In our midyear scholars convening at Thomas More College, the university president stated that anyone graduating from the NaviGo Scholars program would receive up to 50 percent discounted tuition. Since then we’ve had several students accepted from the program, and if they commit to Thomas More they’ll get half-off tuition. That’s powerful. We’re now getting calls from other parts of the Tristate, from places in Indiana and Louisville that want to build on this idea of connecting students to real-world opportunities and businesses.
How is NaviGo planning to build on the success of this program?
We’re exploring partnerships with other major employers, but another plan is to work with sponsoring agencies to help address the teacher shortage in subjects such as physics and math at the high school level. We plan to work with cohort groups to create a pipeline that leads back to the Northern Kentucky region.