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Bard DC students say they want more “real life” preparation in high school, not just college credits

By: Ste’jonn Gibson

Classes on money management, how to prepare taxes, how to start a business. Classes on career choice and how to chart a career path after high school. More discussion of alternatives to college. 

These are some of the requests of students at Bard High School Early College DC, who say they’re not getting enough preparation for entering “the real world” after they graduate.

“I think the school is missing a curriculum that actually interests students,” said Akrya Wiley, an 11th grade Bard student. Bard DC is part of a multi-campus network of nine public high schools that provide tuition-free early college and a chance to earn an associate degree in addition to a high school diploma. Bard Early College is affiliated with Bard College in New York.

HeartSmiles Group photo
Joni Holifield (right) of Baltimore nonprofit HeartSmiles believes public schools should teach leadership. Photo courtesy of HeartSmiles.

“The school's curriculum is missing courses that could help students out after they leave school,” said Monye’ Brice, who is a Year 2 student at Bard, which means she is in her second year of college courses and would be a senior at a typical high school. Kaylah Johnson agreed: “I think the curriculums are missing more adult topics.” 

Gen Z students– born between 1997 and 2012– feel a bachelor’s degree is more important to success than ever, but also say the cost of tuition, the fear of student debt and feeling unprepared for college are all standing in their way, according to a recent study by the ECMC Group. Almost two-thirds of students in the study said they were open to options other than a four-year college degree, up seven percentage points from pre-COVID. 

Leslie Speidel, Project Director of the Harraseeket Foundation, a nonprofit that provides mentoring and career preparation help for high school students in Northern Virginia, said the current model of pushing all students toward college is “broken in so many ways.” 

“They end up really stuck because they get out of school … with no real world skills,” said Speidel. “They’re not going to college, because college is not affordable, or they don’t see [college] being in the picture.”

Joni Holifield, founder and president of the Baltimore-based nonprofit HeartSmiles, said if she could, she’d add courses in leadership to the public school curriculum. HeartSmiles teaches leadership and entrepreneurship to Baltimore youth.

Joni Holifield, founder and president of HeartSmiles. Photo courtesy of Holifield.

“Regardless of where you want to go in life, if you are able to be a strong leader first with yourself and then be able to influence other people, you will never want to be at the bottom of the barrel in any workplace,” she said.

Students at Bard said they do not see the connection between their classes and their futures.  Monye’ and Kaylah said they would like to have a financial course for taxes or a course about money management and profits. 

“I would like a detailed career course where you can pick a career and see how to get there once you leave school,” said Bard student Naseem Parker. 

Tony Gallemore, an administrative officer at Bard, said that it’s not surprising that students feel unprepared. “I do not believe any student is fully prepared for life after high school because schools have gotten away from teaching life skills needed to survive out in the real world, such as basic living skills and money management skills,” he said.

Bard’s curriculum is designed to prepare students for college, Gallemore said, but “I do not think students make the real life correlation between the curriculum and how it transfers to real life scenarios.” 

Ste’jonn Gibson is a Year 2 at Bard High School Early College. He worked on this article with Youthcast Media Group, which has a partnership with Bard’s journalism class. 


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