In June of this past year, we celebrated our first graduating class! Many of those seniors had been with us for years, so watching them walk across the stage and toward a new chapter of their lives was thrilling for us as an organization.
During this transitional season, we got to hear more about their next steps after high school, which included a variety of paths. Youth are going to Blue Ridge Community College, Eastern Mennonite University, James Madison University, University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, William & Mary, and into the military.
“I think the diversity in paths represents who we are,” said Deanna Reed, our Director of Community and School Partnerships.
Kerry Morgan, our High School Program Coordinator, agrees. “We often talk about meeting youth where they are, and so that’s where we begin. And I think it’s very natural that it ends with them finding the right pathway, the right exit ramp, for themselves. Because it’s not going to be the same, and that’s a good thing.”
Since 2015, our mission at On the Road has been to close the learning gap by empowering youth through equal access to educational opportunities outside of the school day. This includes Career Enrichment Courses, field trips, and college visits, which help youth explore their interests, develop skills, and begin to pave a path for their professional future.
“I think seeing these youth take their next steps after high school is the fruit of all of that work and all those decisions and how we structure our programs,” President Brent Holsinger added. “It’s very much a progression, where the experiences a sixth grader gains helps them prepare for seventh grade—all the way up to their senior year,” Brent said.
On the Road youth during a 3-day college tour.
Kerry, our high school program coordinator, said that the college trips we take our youth on continue to be some of the most important experiences them.
“Talking to them their senior year, they said they wouldn’t have been able to tour colleges without On the Road,” Kerry said. “They talked about how they knew more about colleges and what to look for because of the tours that we took them on, and I just think that’s so cool.”
“Seeing them graduate and [knowing that] some of them actually considered or are going to the colleges that they visited while they were with us, that’s big,” Deanna said.
Brent said he feels that this speaks to one of the key components of On the Road’s philosophy: The idea of empowering youth through choice.
“We see this empowerment through choice in our Career Enrichment Courses where there’s a lot of variety and unique options that aren’t necessarily your traditional career path. And then we do the same thing on the college route where they see everything locally but we also take them to new towns and new communities, so they can see different kinds of colleges– small ones, liberal arts schools, public universities,” Brent said.
Our 3-day college trip tour during spring break also includes time to talk with admissions, meetings with current students, and a chance to explore the town or city where each campus is located, so youth get a chance to better know if that particular option is a good fit.
“In the end, we want our youth to do whatever it is that they want to do— we just want to help provide them with the opportunities to know what that is and how to get there, whether that’s college or going directly into a trade,” Brent added.
Youth exploring their interests during two of our Career Enrichment Courses.
In addition to the experiences themselves, Kerry says the safe and relationship-centered environment we build at On the Road also plays a big role.
“A lot of [the benefit] is us doing the college tours and workshops, which shows different opportunities and different career paths … but I think a lot of it comes down to the relationship at the end of the day,” Kerry said. “Because of the relationships we build, we can act like a sounding board, checking in and helping them figure out what their interests and what opportunities might be best for them.”
Brent said that’s what he’s always hoped On the Road could be: A place to both explore and go deeper.
“By being a mentor and making sure they have that deeper level of information, that means they then have the knowledge to assess whether that’s the path they want to go.” Brent said. “And that means they’re entering the next stage of their journey that much more ahead,”
Kerry says she’s witnessed this firsthand.
“I’ve seen them become more confident and comfortable with themselves,” Kerry said. “And I know that wherever they set their sights, they have the tools and resources and skills to get them there themselves. I have no doubt that if they set their mind to something, that they’re going to do it.”
“I do believe that they’re going to make an impact in whatever community they decide to settle down in,” Deanna added. “And I hope that they really stay true to who they are.”
Brent said it’s been an honor to be a part of helping these youth discover more about themselves and he, too, looks forward to watching their journeys unfold while continuing to help more youth discover their promise.
“To be able to see a group of 12th graders taking that next step with all kinds of confidence, all kinds of life experiences that they wouldn’t have had otherwise, and to see them going on to all these different types of schools, it’s that longer term vision of the day-to-day work,” he said.
“I think that’s what ultimately changes lives. Over the years, these experiences and relationships that we provide at On the Road can fundamentally shift the trajectory of our youths’ lives in terms of their next steps. And that’s pretty amazing.”