With any annual event, keeping a fresh feel is key to continuing to attract participants, and the 2018 Superintendent’s College and Career Readiness Forum, scheduled for Jan. 3 at Trumbull High School, is no exception.

The forum, co-hosted by the school system, the Trumbull Business-Education Initiative and the Trumbull ACE Foundation, has evolved into an interactive event where high school students and parents can learn about the opportunities that exist at the school to prepare students for college and careers.

“Students, once they have been through the process, they come back and say they wish they knew earlier what they know now,” said Superintendent Gary Cialfi. “There are so many opportunities available for students to explore and find their passion.”

The night will include short presentations from a number of former THS students who have recently been through the college admission process and will soon be looking to begin their careers, and community business leaders, who can speak about the kinds of people who have success in the workforce. But the main focus is an extended question-and-answer period in which students and parents can pick the brains of those who are on the stage.

“We really found that we struck a chord last year where we opened the floor for questions, and right away there were 15 hands in the air,” said ACE and BEI spokesman Dan Neumann. “And then when the panelists answered the questions, there were follow-up questions from the audience. People are really looking for a deeper understanding of what their students can do.”

Another difference this year is that the forum is intended for students already in Trumbull High, and their parents. In previous years, eighth graders were invited. This year there will be a separate forum for them in the spring. Also, the forum will not focus on the nuts and bolts of the college admissions process, like filling out financial aid forms and writing standout application essays. Rather, the evening is dedicated to helping students become the kind of applicant colleges and businesses look for by taking advantage of Trumbull High’s clubs and extracurricular activities and planning students’ academic calendars to make sure they are taking the appropriate classes to get them where they want to go academically.

The ACE Foundation currently supports nearly 70 student clubs and organizations, giving students nearly limitless opportunities to get involved in activities they are passionate about, Cialfi said.

“That’s one of the things students have said about college admissions,” Cialfi said. “Yes, they look at grades and test scores, but when it comes to activities, they really look for deeper involvement, rather than just going to meetings for a bunch of different clubs.”

Cialfi also stressed that although the temptation is to look at the Trumbull High graduates on the panel as star students, it was important to remember that at one time, they were incoming freshmen, too.

“Parents may look at these students and think to themselves, ‘My kid isn’t at that level,’ but at one time, they weren’t either,” he said. “Sure, some of them came into Trumbull High after excelling at middle school, but even those that you might consider average students in middle school can develop into amazing seniors by taking advantage of the opportunities they had in high school.”