Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Going to College is Complicated

I was reading today how many US students are not ready to succeed in college, because they have not taken and excelled at the core subjects and because they have not scored high enough on tests like the ACT.  Then I read an article entitled Are American Students Grossly Unprepared for College? "where Award-winning Prinicipal Carol Burris of South Side High School in New York  looks at this issue" and dissects some statements made by Education Secretary Arne Duncan.  I also read Kid, I'm Sorry You are Just Not College Material (by Michael Petrilli, in Slate).

It is kind of like the alcohol use and sex perspectives I used to talk with teenaged clients about at The Door, where I designed and ran MY VOICE (an HIV prevention program for young women).  "Everyone my age has tried it," was what many kids would say.  But, the statistics and real life did not back them up.

Yesterday I went to a training at Partnership for After School Education (PASE) entitled Transitioning to College:  Supporting Social and Emotional Readiness.  I was sitting with administrators and counselors that served kids from homes with lower incomes, who may be from families who came to the United States from other countries, kids who had to make a conscience choice to attend a college because they would need grants and loans to pay for the experience.  The message was that the college application process was daunting, but actually going to college could be like visiting a foreign country necessitating learning about how a college works and even learning vocabulary (definition of bursar anyone?)  The training participants were full of recollections of when they went to college, and the instructor encouraged us to draw on those memories as a bridge to working with clients.  The goal was to take back tools that could be used to help clients better negotiate the process.

MY TAKE AWAY was two-fold:  although daunting, going to college IS a smart idea for so many reasons, if it is a good fit  AND  if everyone keeps reading and hearing that students are not going to succeed in college then maybe they will believe it and make it come true.

Finding a good fit is not easy.  It requires a teenager or anyone else who is considering going to college to examine themselves and be honest.  My husband says he always wanted to be a professional basketball player, but unfortunately he isn't tall enough.  I say that there are lots of ways to fulfill that passion that do not require playing professional basketball.  The hard question is whether any of those ways is a good enough fit to provide the other things he desires.  So, if someone wants to go to college the first question is WHY?  If that question has a solid answer the HOW? is not as intimidating.  CAN WE AGREE THAT SOME STUDENTS ARE NOT PREPARED WELL ENOUGH TO GO TO COLLEGE, BUT IF THEY REALLY WANT TO GO THEY HAVE TO FIND OUT HOW TO MAKE IT HAPPEN?

Hanging out with people who continually want to say how bad things are gets to be tedious.  Pointing out that a system doesn't work and needs to be fixed is very powerful.  When the people who continually want to say how bad things are also point out that the education system needs to be fixed it becomes complicated for everyone!  CAN WE AGREE THAT THE AMERICAN EDUCATION SYSTEM DOES NOT WORK AS WELL, ESPECIALLY FOR SOME STUDENTS, AS IT COULD?   But, if a student really wants to go to college for good reasons, then the preparation system is one piece of information but not the entire pie.

I would like to tell you that in the past year I have met students, who are now in college, who will have lots of debt, or no debt, who were straight A students or not, some were bullied in high school, some left high school confused, others were relieved, and the list goes on.  One student entered college thinking there were only two types of lawyers, and now works with a state legislature.  She has to have a job to pay for costs, but she got promoted.  Another student applied to Harvard on a whim, and is now there.  Another student is deaf and an excellent student who wanted to major in Math and Missionary.  Another began in the summer and has made friends, gone to concerts, taken a variety of classes, does crew and has made the college his experience.  Finally, I met a young woman who despite being a great student who is going to a great college, found a passion that may lead her on a journey that is unexpected.  I also know students who left that role and are succeeding in the world of work, where college is not part of the fit.

I'm just saying, going to college is complicated.
It really helps to be prepared, just like being prepared to visit a new country.  And, some of us are coming from systems that do not prepare us as well as they should.

I am glad I went to the training yesterday.  I am going to apply to do a training with my games.  I think it would have been more amusing to play games to emphasize skills that are needed to go to college.  You remember the last time you lost playing Monopoly, right?


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