MNPS Voices: Larhonda Cockrell

Dr. LaRhonda Cockrell, College and Career Readiness Coach
Posted on 11/04/2021
Dr. LaRhonda Cockrell may have a new title and role in the district as a college and career readiness coach at Pearl-Cohn High School, but she is not new to the work that is required for her to be successful in this new position. As a McGavock High School grad who overcame great adversity growing up, Cockrell is committed to being the high school counselor she needed to help her navigate college and career readiness post-graduation.

School counselors and the college and career coaches do work collaboratively; however, theLaRhonda Cockrell roles are different. High school counselors are integral to students’ success, because one of their roles is to ensure students are enrolled in the correct pathways and are on track with credits toward graduation, while the coaches look more at options after graduation.

Cockrell, who received a doctorate from Trevecca Nazarene University in school counseling, explained the difference.

“This role is a deeper dive into our students’ post-graduation academics and career choices,” she said. “This is critical, because we lose students after high school, and there is very little data kept on when they leave.”

College and career coaches are creating streamlined pathways for seniors to combat this.

“Every senior will have a plan before they leave high school,” Cockrell said. “We plan to accomplish this by monitoring and recording their career pathways, such as aptitude testing, making sure they have taken the ACT and completed college and scholarship applications. Students who are not planning to attend college will receive counseling on career options (current and future) and technical school.”

Cockrell is one of four college and career readiness coaches in the district and has been busy enrolling students in the new work-based learning platform piloted this year. Students can earn an industry certificate and/or associate degree while working in their pathway or career interest with a business or industry partner. Students learn employability skills while earning credits toward graduation.

“Our students get to double-dip,” Cockrell said. “Learn-while-you-earn is one of my favorites and big with Dr. Battle.”

The importance of her role in Pearl-Cohn’s culture is inspired by Cockrell’s own childhood and high school experiences.

She grew up in childhood poverty with drug-addicted parents who were often incarcerated. Unfortunately, during her senior year at McGavock she lost her father to a drug overdose. A short time after graduation, she had to assume custody of her two younger siblings to prevent them from becoming wards of the state.

She remembers by name her McGavock teachers who supported her through those turbulent, dark days while she was in school. She is also grateful for their continued support following graduation.

“I am a firm believer of we go through things to help other people. Sometimes we don’t always see that while we are going through,” said Cockrell. “But when I was going through – the only way that I went through was that I had to grow through.”

Cockrell credits the love and support of those McGavock mentors, Coach Hood, Christiana Gentry, and Dr. Jenkins, for modeling the behavior she demonstrates today.

“I am the counselor to my students today that I needed in high school,” she said. “Our students need and deserve to know that someone cares about them. This is what I do for my students, and I have no plans of leaving.”

Although Cockrell’s role is grant-funded, she hopes the implementation of her goals will have a lasting impact.

One of her goals is to ensure that students transition into career and college after high school along with the ability to track “summer melt,” the loss of students between college acceptance and actually starting their freshman year. Another goal is to highlight the importance of this role and expose inequities that need to be addressed.

Cockrell, a soon-to-be mother of two, is a published author, podcaster, motivational speaker, and mentor who often shares her inspirational story of beating the odds with women in prison and teens in the Juvenile Court system.
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