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San Marcos Unified opens Future Centers to help students plan for life beyond high school

San Marcos high schoolers are getting a leg up on planning their futures, as they celebrate the opening of Future Centers on campuses across the district.

The San Marcos Promise nonprofit organization, in collaboration with the San Marcos Unified School District, is opening three new centers on each of the district’s high school campuses. The centers are a one-stop-shop for future planning, where students can take career assessments, get help creating resumes, learn financial literacy skills, browse through a closet of professional attire, and get connected with opportunities and resources both on campus and in the community.

“We are driven by helping students discover their interests, their passions, their talents and ensuring that they know how to navigate next steps after graduation,” said Superintendent Andy Johnsen.

On Thursday, the nonprofit and city and district officials joined staff and students at Mission Hills High School for the unveiling of the Dr. Kevin Holt Future Center, named for the former superintendent whose dream was to create the centers nearly a decade ago.

“Kevin Holt was a ‘what if’ guy,” said Councilmember Randy Walton, who is also a founder of the San Marcos Promise. “What if we could guarantee, or promise, a kid a specific pathway to some identifiable goal? … Don’t just hand them their diploma, but point them in a direction, so they can leave with purpose and intent.”

At each of the three centers, education coordinators are ready to help students explore their options to successfully launch their futures, whatever that may look like, Johnsen said.

“There’s a path for everybody, so we want to make sure that … you’re ready and we’re giving you the coaching you need to get there,” he added.

The San Marcos Promise was at the helm of planning and raising money for the Future Centers. The funding came from private donors and grants, said Lisa Stout, executive director of the San Marcos Promise.

Stout was a counselor for nearly 20 years, most of which were spent in the San Marcos district. She says she saw first-hand the challenges educators face to meet the diverse needs of students at under-resourced schools.

“Our goal for students is simple: know yourself, know your options and make informed choices,” she said. “Now, each high school in our district has a welcoming space where students can imagine their future possible selves and seek help in making it a reality.”

The centers were conceptualized and designed with the help of student ambassadors who are interested in interior design and architecture. One of them, Mission Hills sophomore Shagun Kamboj, said the centers are intended to be a place for students to hang out, with a coffee-shop atmosphere.

“Sometimes school can be so stressful, so this space should be stress-free,” Kamboj said. “We wanted a space where everyone could feel connected … and just inspire them to dream big about their future.”

Stout says they wanted students to help them figure out what would get their peers into the centers.

“Let’s make a space that’s welcoming and inviting, where you want to hang out and get the help,” she added.

Kamboj says the space came out even better than she imagined, with cozy couches to lounge on, a digital art gallery displaying photos of students doing extracurricular activities, an interactive board where they can find information and resources, and virtual-reality headsets to help envision themselves on a college campus or in a workplace.

“It’s crazy,” she said, smiling excitedly as she looked around the new space. “I’m going to bring all my friends here.”

Mission Hills’ Future Center opening was also held in conjunction with the school’s Future Fair, an annual career fair that was put on hiatus due to the pandemic. More than 65 local businesses, universities and organizations came together Thursday to give students the opportunity to look at possible career and schooling opportunities in various industries.

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