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    • Diploma in Hand: Post-High School Guidance From Online School Graduates

      30 July 2021

      (Family Features) Before a global pandemic reshaped education across America, many students followed the “expected” path: complete primary education, earn a high school diploma and transition into a career or further learning. 

      Now, after an unexpected year (or more) of online learning, many students are embracing more nontraditional routes for their education and considering new options for life after high school graduation.
      A valuable first step for high schoolers is envisioning the future they want. 

      “Looking at different avenues and taking an interest inventory really help with the exploration process,” said Morgan Champion, head of counseling for Pearson Virtual Schools. “I recommend completing a career cluster interest survey, which are widely available online for free, to give guidance on which types of careers align to your interests and skills, such as a service-related or scientific field.”

      Next, consider these choices and tips for preparing for life after high school from alums of fully online K-12 schools Connections Academy and Reach Cyber Charter School.

      Keep Options Open for Different Paths
      Beyond the traditional four-year college degree, there are many ways students can progress toward a long-term goal or successful career. Community or two-year college is an option for some because it’s often closer to home and tuition can be more affordable. Others enroll in a trade school or secure suitable jobs and step directly into the workforce. Some graduates enlist for military service while others take some time off to figure out their next step before making a move.

      Keeping an open mind about all options is something graduate Angel Bennett supports fully. The flexibility of online learning allowed her to get a jump on her college education. She earned an associate of arts degree and associate of science degree through her local community college before graduating high school, giving her an edge in admission to her top choice four-year college. She now attends a private liberal arts college and is well on her way to a career fueled by a passion for clothing and inclusive fashion design.

      The ambitious pace served as inspiration to Bennett’s younger sister, as well; Amber completed her own associate of arts and associate of science degrees as a 14-year-old high schooler and will start attending a private four-year university at 15 as she simultaneously completes her diploma.

      Students should ask their high school about these types of dual-enrollment options.

      Don’t Be Afraid to Act on Your Dreams
      For some high school students, one of the most intimidating decisions to make is which colleges to apply to. However, law graduate Strider Kachelein, top of his undergrad class and top 4% in his law class at a prestigious institution, said to take that chance and apply to your dream school, even if you think you can’t afford the tuition. 

      Kachelein, who started online school in sixth grade, knows paying for college can be challenging for many high school students and their families. He recommends researching financial aid policies first and carefully. 

      “So many people believe they can’t get in and are shocked when they do,” Kachelein said. “Money can also be a big issue, but there are so many resources available, like the college match I applied to in high school. A key stat I also looked at while researching colleges was the school’s ‘percent of financial need met.’ There are a number of schools that will meet 100% of your determined financial need, which can make a world of difference. For example, at these schools, if your family is deemed unable to pay tuition, room or board then 100% of these expenses are covered by the school.”

      High schoolers can reach out to their school’s college counselors to help navigate the application process.

      Know It’s OK to Take a Break
      Pausing in the middle of one’s education is a practice that’s more common in other parts of the world, but is growing in the U.S. According to data from Pearson, nearly 17% of U.S. high schoolers were considering a gap year, which enables the graduate more time to evaluate options and priorities, save money and plan for the future. 

      COVID-19 heavily influenced 2020 graduate Stormy Kaiser’s decision to take a gap year between high school and college. Choosing to accelerate her online curriculum allowed Kaiser to complete high school graduation requirements a year early, so even after taking the year off to realign plans the pandemic disrupted, she’s on schedule to enroll in a four-year college with her peers.

      Take Advantage of Career-Related Coursework in High School
      Nontraditional school models often offer nontraditional curriculum options, like career and technical education courses, that students can put to work right away. For example, Amya Meekins, who also graduated high school a full year early, took business classes at her online school that helped her learn about contracts, finance and other elements to successfully start and run her own business. 

      She now runs a boutique in addition to being a performer and motivational speaker. She’s also nearing completion of her second book, all as a 19-year-old undergrad pursuing her first college degree.

      Consider Job Shadowing or Internships
      Flexible scheduling is one of the most commonly cited advantages of online school among enrolled students. The extra free time can have big implications for students planning their futures, especially if they use the time to explore career choices.

      That’s exactly what Becky Bressen did, shadowing a music therapist at the urging of her brother, who is a physical therapist. After initially feeling the career wasn’t for her and attending college with plans to become a music engineer and producer, a music therapy class made it into her course list, and it clicked for her. Right after college, she built a successful music therapy program from scratch at a hospice facility and finds her current role highly rewarding. 

      For more information about full-time online public schools, and tips for making post-graduation decisions, visit

      The Benefits of a Gap Year
      When COVID-19 upended college plans for students across America, Stormy Kaiser knew she wasn’t alone. Even so, she never anticipated how using an unplanned year to regroup could benefit her future.

      Initially, Kaiser planned to start her pre-med journey at New York University, but after seeing the effects of the pandemic in urban areas, she shifted focus. A year of recharging and self-exploration, writing short stories and volunteering took her in a new direction. She now plans to attend Baylor University, where she’ll double major in chemistry and mathematics as a pre-med student.

      Due to her time management skills, personal diligence and involvement in volunteer opportunities, she was offered scholarships at many colleges and universities – a whopping $600,000 overall. She is now on her way toward becoming a neurosurgeon.

      Published with permission from RISMedia.

    • Add Powerful Pairings to Your Family‚Äôs Plates

      30 July 2021

      (Family Features) Joining loved ones at the family table is an important moment for many, both as a filling way to enjoy a meal and an emotionally satisfying way to catch up on all the day’s events. Make those moments count by combining nutritious ingredients and creating recipes that can quickly become favorites. 

      As part of the Powerful Pairings initiative – launched by the United Sorghum Checkoff Program, National Pork Board and USA Pulses – this recipe calls for pulses, which include lentils, chickpeas dry peas, and beans; sorghum, similar to rice or quinoa filled with nutrients, texture and taste; and pork, rich in flavor, versatile and sustainable with nutritious qualities. 

      Combined, these three ingredients can work together in sweet and savory dishes alike, and they shine with a multitude of herbs, spices and sauces from around the world. A powerhouse nutritional trio, they include foods from the protein, vegetable and grain groups outlined in MyPlate, a template for balance, variety and moderation. 

      Plus, the taste and versatility of these ingredients make it easier to achieve more family meals, which promotes cohesion, communication and relationships, helping loved ones celebrate simple joys together and be more prepared for uncertainty and difficult life moments. 

      Find more information, resources and recipes at 

      Sorghum Split Pea Soup
      Recipe courtesy of the United Sorghum Checkoff Program, National Pork Board and USA Pulses
      Prep time: 20 minutes
      Cook time: 60 minutes
      Servings: 6 (1 1/4 cup each)

      • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
      • 1 onion, chopped
      • 3/4 cup sliced carrots
      • 3/4 cup sliced celery
      • salt, to taste
      • pepper, to taste
      • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
      • 6 cups no-salt-added chicken stock 
      • 1 1/4 cups green split peas
      • 1 small ham bone
      • 2/3 cup chopped ham
      • 2/3 cup pearled sorghum
      • 4 sprigs thyme
      • 2 bay leaves
      • 1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
      • chopped fresh thyme (optional)
      • cracked black pepper (optional)
      In a 4-quart stock pot or large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, carrots, celery and garlic; season with salt and pepper, to taste, and cook, stirring occasionally, 10-12 minutes, or until onion is tender. Add chicken stock, split peas, ham bone, ham, sorghum, thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, 45-60 minutes, or until split peas are soft and sorghum is tender. 

      Remove ham bone, thyme sprigs and bay leaves from soup. Remove ham from bone, chop ham and return to pot. Discard bone, thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Add Worcestershire sauce and season with salt and pepper, to taste.

      Garnish with chopped fresh thyme and cracked black pepper, if desired.

      Nutritional information per serving: 336 calories; 8 g total fat (2 g saturated fat); 22 mg cholesterol; 573 mg sodium; 48 g total carbohydrates (12 g dietary fiber, 7 g sugars); 20 g protein; 3% vitamin D; 5% calcium; 17% iron; 19% potassium; 227 mg phosphorus (18%). 

      Published with permission from RISMedia.

    • 4 Luxe Bathroom Ideas to Pull From Hotels

      30 July 2021

      Nothing is quite as relaxing as enjoying a luxurious hotel room. Between fine bed linens to a spa-like bathroom, when you stay at a great hotel, it can be hard to want to leave. Luckily, you can take that feeling with you when you leave—and you don’t have to steal the bathrobes to do it. 

      Waffle Shower Curtain
      Your utilitarian shower curtain may be doing its job just fine, but if it doesn’t currently evoke that spa-like quality, it may be time for an upgrade. Leave the plastic and themed shower curtains for the kids’ bathroom and opt instead for a monochrome waffle shower curtain. These heavy-duty fabric curtains may offer instant sophistication, but they can also be easily cleaned in the washing machine making them practical for everyday living.

      Waterfall Shower Head 
      You may not be able to arrange for regular room service in your home, but you can easily start the day with a luxurious shower every morning. Your current shower head may be serviceable, but if you want to add a little more relaxation to your daily ablutions, consider swapping it out for a waterfall shower head. These oversized shower heads are mounted overhead to provide a water stream that feels like standing under a waterfall or natural rainfall.

      Update the Hardware
      Your bathroom’s aesthetic has just as much of an impact on the overall feel. Outdated faucets and hardware will always lack a spa-like quality. Update your current fixtures and hardware to match a streamlined and modern style. Bronze, gold and copper make excellent choices and will be sure to offer the modern minimalist visuals that your favorite high-end hotel features.

      Upgraded Bath Sheets
      After using your waterfall shower head, you’ll want to keep the spa-like quality going with more than a simple bath towel. Opt instead for bath sheets, which are bigger and more absorbent than the standard bath towel. For the most lux experience possible, be sure to opt for a higher-end bath towel that will offer a plush and comfortable texture.

      Your bathroom may never be the complete oasis that a high-end hotel offers, but pulling easy-to-implement inspiration from them can have a big impact on your home. With these four ideas, you’ll be relaxing in your own mini-spa in no time. All you will need to complete the package is a quality hotel-worthy bathrobe.

      Published with permission from RISMedia.

    • Post-Pandemic Wedding Trends: In or Out?

      29 July 2021

      Much has changed in the American lifestyle since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but none more striking than in the way we have come together and celebrated. As life returns to pre-pandemic levels and many have found themselves adjusting priorities, wedding planners suggest the top wedding trends most likely to stay in favor—or not.

      Elopements and Small Weddings Are In 
      Couples have realized the financial and safety advantages of elopement or a small wedding. Many are choosing to skip the crowd and use wedding funds as a down-payment on a home or for some other purpose. 

      Live Streaming Is In 
      Streaming wedding ceremonies has become popular as a means for couples to share their special day with faraway friends and family. The trend is likely to stick around long after traditional ceremonies have returned in order to accommodate guests that can't travel. 

      Buffet Dinners Are Out 
      For safety reasons, many couples will choose plated dinners, food trucks and even pre-packed sack lunches or dinners. Others will opt for a cake and champagne reception in lieu of a full dinner at their wedding reception.

      Traditional Bridal Registries Are Fading 
      Many couples who have lived together for a while have the basic household essentials and no interest in high-end china or crystal. Instead, couples ask guests to contribute to their honeymoon trip, down payment on a home or even a donation to a chosen charity.

      Wedding Decor is Changing 
      DIY wedding flowers, invitations and even wedding cakes have increased in popularity and will likely continue to be popular, as couples shave the cost of wedding flowers and decor to allocate funds toward more practical purposes. The cutback also applies to wedding bouquets. Small, but beautiful flowers are replacing the more expensive cascading arrangements.

      Colorful Wedding Suits Are Trending  
      A trend that appears to be taking hold all on its own is the move toward more colorful wedding suits and tuxedos; burgundy and forest green are in for winter weddings, while pastels, ivory and blues are taking over for summer.

      Published with permission from RISMedia.

    • 3 Hot Weather Slow Cooker Ideas for Weeknights

      29 July 2021

      Slow cookers are an ideal way to ensure an easy and delicious dinner. On a busy weeknight, there’s nothing better than coming home to a ready-made home cooked meal. While slow cookers can ensure a hearty warming dinner during the winter, you don’t need to store it away in the warmer months. 

      BBQ Pulled Pork Sliders
      Nothing goes better with hot weather than an old-fashioned cookout. If you’re in the mood for BBQ flavor with a fraction of the work, opt for slow cooker pulled pork sliders with BBQ sauce. Simply place a pork butt or shoulder in your slow cooker and coat with your favorite homemade or store-bought BBQ sauce. Cook it on low for 7-8 hours or on high for 4-5 hours; then, place it on a slider bun and pair your sliders with a side of coleslaw and watermelon for the perfect weeknight BBQ.

      Slow Cooker Chili
      Chili and cornbread may be ideal hearty foods for cold weather, but a great homemade chili on your favorite hot dog is the perfect warm-weather comfort food. Enjoy the nostalgia of this classic carnival food with a homemade and healthier twist. A can of fire-roasted tomatoes, a can of diced tomatoes, chili powder, onion powder and garlic powder to taste all come together to make two cans of rinsed kidney beans into the best chili you’ve had in a long time. For extra flavor, consider adding diced onion and even sliced jalapenos. Let everything simmer together in your slow cooker on low for 7-8 hours. Pour your chili on your family’s favorite hot dogs and you’re sure to have a fan favorite on your hands.

      Shredded Chicken Tacos
      When you’re in need of a good meal to serve on your back patio, look no further than shredded chicken tacos. Create a weeknight-friendly mini fiesta by using your slow cooker to make flavorful shredded chicken. Three to four boneless chicken breasts, a half of a cup of water or chicken broth, and a packet of your favorite taco seasoning, are all you need for this simple recipe. Allow the chicken to cook in your slow cooker for 6-7 hours on low and you will have a delicious filling for your weeknight taco dinner. Want to make it even more warm-weather friendly with a zesty kick? Simply lessen your amount of taco seasoning and add a ranch packet to your chicken as it cooks.

      Published with permission from RISMedia.