First-ever career advisor hired to close gap for MFISD students

STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO

Gibson Holmes

Gibson Holmes is the new career and college advisor for the Marble Falls Education Foundation.

Falling through the gap in school terms often refers to students falling behind in class and never catching up.

But another gap worried Marble Falls school officials: not having someone to help students, particularly ones considered at-risk, find their paths after graduation.

Gibson Holmes has been tasked with filling that gap.

The Marble Falls Education Foundation hired Holmes as its first-ever career and college advisor. His primary role is to ensure Marble Falls Independent School District students graduate with the confidence to achieve their dreams and be successful, despite their current environment.

“There was a disconnect of students who didn’t want to take the normal path of what’s been promoted – a four-year college degree,” said Pam Parkman, executive director for the Marble Falls Education Foundation, which supports MFISD’s mission with innovative and enriching programs. “Some were falling through the cracks. We want to go and help kids identify and plan for post-secondary training.”

That could mean college, another form of job training, or even the military.

Parkman learned this firsthand. In the past, the mother of two believed the best way to achieve success was with a college degree. That changed as her sons decided their futures. One received scholarships to attend Baylor University. The other, however, chose a different route: a welding program.

Holmes will help Marble Falls school district students figure out their next step after graduation then assist them through processes such as applications for admission, financial aid, and scholarships or filling out other important documents to open doors, Parkman said.

Holmes comes to the Marble Falls Education Foundation from the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) state grant at the Institute for Public School Initiatives on the University of Texas at Austin campus. He served as a field trainer and college readiness analyst with GEAR UP.

That wasn’t his first foray into post-secondary preparedness. While working at the University of North Florida, he implemented a research-based college access program. He also served as the student financial aide coordinator at UNF.

His background, particularly working with specific groups of students, pushed him to the top of the applicants pile for the foundation job.

“We feel like he’s worked with low socio-economic to high-level students in college settings,” Parkman said. “He helps to create a mindset to think outside the box, to get kids to look at their skill sets and dreams and put them together.”

Megan and Robert Ruff are funding the career and college advisor position for the next three years. The Ruffs see Holmes’ role as one that goes beyond simply telling students they need to be ready for life after high school.

“It’s really getting the kids to understand the whole goal is to launch into a new career,” Robert Ruff said. “After graduation, there should be something for you more than a job.

“We felt like, with a career focus, this is something that could really catch a lot of kids in high school and in middle school and give them a vision of something better they’re willing to work hard for,” he said.

Traditionally, a high school counselor would help students navigate their post-high school paths. But the role of high school counselors has shifted over the past several years, according to Marble Falls Independent School District Superintendent Chris Allen.

When the state changed high school graduation requirements in 2014-15, it added to counselors’ workloads. On top of that, college admissions have become more competitive while the application and financial aid processes are more daunting. And high schools now have more at-risk students who Allen said either aren’t living with parents, are at the poverty level, or are first-generation college students who are in need of financial help but don’t know how to get it.

The career and college advisor can help identify those students and offer them that help.

Allen and Parkman commended the Ruffs for their generosity in funding the position.

“You get great schools when you have great and caring communities,” Allen said.

Holmes’ first official day is July 31.

Learn more about the foundation and its role at its website.

jfierro@thepicayune.com

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