High schools have held Signing Day for years for students headed to universities on athletic scholarships.
But three years ago, Osceola County Schools created a district-wide Decision Day to recognize all high school seniors with a plan in place to attend college, trade school or the military after graduation.
It started at Poinciana High before it went district wide, when Anthony Cook was still a guidance counselor there. Back then, the district had the worst rate in Central Florida for seniors with a post-secondary plan in place.
“We thought holding a celebration to recognize their achievements might be a small way to motivate the change we wanted to see,” said Cook, who now serves as the district’s coordinator of college and career counseling. “It was a way to let them know their accomplishments were just as important.”
Six years after the first Decision Day took place at Poinciana, students at Osceola High School in Kissimmee gathered Friday in a cafeteria regaled in blue and gold, complete with a table of color-coordinated cupcakes arranged
It was an exciting moment for Berkley Hopkins, a senior headed for Florida Atlantic University in the fall. She wants to pursue a career in forensics, and plans to major in a biology-related field.
For her, the event was a chance for her to reflect with her friends on the triumphs of high school before the “real world” of college life.
“Once I knew where I was going, it made me so much more excited,” Hopkins said. “It’s really nice to make it official and celebrate that I’m actually graduating and heading off to the next part of my life.”
Hopkins said not going to college was never really an option – she knew something had to come next.
OHP Guidance Counselor Steve Mason said all Osceola schools have pushed that post-secondary narrative in recent years. He said he’s definitely seen a shift among student mindsets since he became a guidance counselor 19 years ago, noting the increased access and allure of Valencia’s Osceola and Poinciana campuses.
“Kids now, more than ever, know the value of an education,” he said. “It’s a message we work hard to teach them all 12 years they’re in school.”
About 350 seniors from OHS have some plan in place after high school, and the district has succeeded in boosting the number of seniors with an after-high-school plan.
Before heading off to take selfies and munch on cupcakes, OHS Principal Nia Campbell gave her Kowboys some words of encouragement in their final days of high school.
“You made it here,” she said. “There is no obstacle that is too great for you.”