Time waits for no one, even in a pandemic, so neither does planning for the future when it comes to IPS students.

The Future Centers at IPS high schools are designed to help students take the steps they need to transition out of the school environment and into one of what IPS calls the three Es: enrollment in college or trade school, enlistment in the military, or employment in a job.

That means providing student support in areas like college- and career-readiness skill building, mentoring, and technical assistance, among other services. Students get support in submitting college applications and Free Applications for Student Financial Aid (FAFSA), interview training, and tutoring, as well as just advice on how to proceed as their high school years wind down.

In ordinary times, students are bustling around the Future Center, talking to counselors and mentors, sharing successes and failures, and staying motivated for whichever track they choose to be on. Instead, students use chat or video call sessions using teleconferencing software to stay in touch.

But when virtual learning and social distancing are the norm in the world and in school, things tend to change a bit. IPS has provided all students with the technology necessary to fulfill virtual learning requirements, including the capability for teleconferencing.

Christine Pounds, the Future Center coordinator at Arsenal Technical High School, says the time of COVID-19 can be a challenge for students who are already easily distracted to have another layer of technology between them and their teachers and mentors.

“One of the disadvantages is that sometimes you can’t see the student and build a personal relationship,” she said. “So we have to still have time for those noncontingent things and giving them time to just let them check in to say ‘Hey, Miss Pounds, let me tell you what happened this weekend.’ Then the kid knows we’re concerned with them, and not just our agenda.”

But there is also a silver lining: students are using technology in a more robust way, learning to adapt to challenges, and finding workable solutions.

“I had a young lady reach out to me and tell me how much she’s enjoying learning remotely,” Pounds said. “She wouldn’t have been prepared to access some of these online services that she’s now been privy to because she’s so used to that hand-over-hand service. And she’s now being challenged to look things up to solve a problem. So I thought that was huge for a lot of students.”

And even some students who ordinarily may not reach out for help are participating because of this change in approach.

“Some of our students are talking more virtually,” she said. “If I’m a shy student, for example, I can still get the same conversation virtually by just typing in a chat, and I’m communicating more effectively that way. I’m understood. I’m stretching my writing skills.”

And they have also learned to continue to provide their services virtually. They still have their college days, when representatives from different schools speak to students. They still have military recruiters visiting, and they still have the same job counselors working to help students who need employment.

Pounds says they have found a new place in being able to personalize the way they serve their students, creating a new environment tailored to their needs. “That’s the good news being virtual, that students have that programming flexibility. They can pick and choose what they need, sort of like a menu. We provide the same programming in a virtual space.”

(Some photos above taken prior to COVID-19)