July 2, 21014

In a recent Education Today article by Donald E. Heller, the author wrote: “The decision to allow our daughter to become a high school dropout when she approached us with the idea was one that our family debated intensely during the last six months. In the end, we agreed with our daughter that this was the best path for her.”

Finding the best path toward success for your teenager is the primary mantra of Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? Yet, choosing to drop out of high school as the best path is tough even for me to follow. Heller, dean of the college of education at Michigan State University, said he and his wife, a public school teacher, did have a difficult time coming to agreement with their daughter. He described his daughter as quite articulate at explaining her reasons for wanting to find a different path to the future.

The Heller’s two daughters had attended a private school in London in their younger years, then an alternative public school in another state before moving to Michigan. The older daughter graduated from the alternative high school, but the younger was enrolled in a local public high school, which had a good reputation. The daughter scored well on state tests and on the SAT, but her school grades were not reflecting the depth of knowledge Heller knew she had. He and his wife noticed the daughter was “not engaged in learning in ways that she had been in other schools she had attended.”

The well-regarded Michigan high school was, like so many of our public schools, “highly traditional in its structure and curriculum,” focused on improving the “performance of students on the state tests rather than to encourage them to grow intellectually and to develop a breadth of learning.” Heller’s daughter realized, and he and his wife came to see, that the daughter was not being challenged or allowed to explore her curiosity, develop her interests, or learn for the sake of learning—something she had thrived upon at her previous schools. An intelligent student, she was not challenged and was slipping through the cracks.

After reviewing the options, the family decided to let the daughter apply to an early college program, 600 miles from home. Heller acknowledges that public schools are under extreme pressure to prove their students’ ability to meet state and federal standards. That focus, however, results in a one-size-fits-all approach to education that simply doesn’t work for many students. Although she will not experience the traditions of a high school graduation, Heller’s daughter will have a college education. Many other students who don’t respond to standard curriculums are not so lucky.

I encouraged one of my sons to finish high school early because he already had all the requirements he needed, and I knew he was bored and headed for trouble. It was a good plan for him. I have a friend who let her daughter drop out, get a GED, and proceed straight to community college—the young women also recognized the “standard” wasn’t working for her.

The Toward College Success mantra, “help your teenager find the path to success,” still stands. It can be scary figuring out the way, but until there are enough alternatives to the standard curriculum, parents need to remain alert and open to helping their teenager find that path.

To read Heller’s article: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/06/27/36heller.h33.html?cmp=SOC-SHR-TW

June 18, 2014

It is the day after my middle kid’s 25th birthday, and I find myself reflecting on the paths my three children have taken toward their futures—some of it success and some of it not. In the past, when I have spoken to parents about Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able?, I have used my three children as examples of the different paths teenagers may choose. Mine are no longer teenagers, yet their journeys toward college success and life beyond high school is still evolving.

My oldest went straight to the University of Colorado after graduating high school, struggled to choose a major, but did well and graduated four years ago. He landed a job in his field right away and was gainfully employed until this spring. As difficult as it was to lose his job, he sees it as the kick in the pants he needed. He feels he had “outgrown” his job and was ready to move on to something else—what? The same problem that plagued him in college remained—what did he want to do? He always assumed he would go to graduate school, and that is what he is planning to do. He has discovered that he can combine graduate school and the Peace Corps at Colorado State University, although he is still trying to decide which program to apply for. He now studies for the GRE and wishes he’d taken it within six months of graduation, is filling out the Peace Corps application and wishes he’d finished it two years ago, and works a part-time job. I still think he was, and is, ready, willing, and able to find his way.

The one who had a birthday yesterday took the bounce-around route through college. He finished high school a semester early, then went with his brother to Peru where they worked for a small nongovernmental organization. A great experience, but it still didn’t leave him “ready and willing” for college. Once home he insisted on going to our local community college despite me trying to discourage him to wait until he really wanted to go; I believe he went primarily because he knew that was the only way he’d get help from mom and dad with living expenses. The second semester he conceded that I was right—he wasn’t ready for college, but he was ready to travel. He put his savings together, and with our blessing, went to New Zealand for a year. He had a great adventure, learned a lot about himself, and returned broke. He took the first job that came along—selling high-end vacuum cleaners. Within two weeks, he announced that he was ready for college. Yes! He was serious about his studies, he figured out the best way for him to stay focused (attention-deficit issues), and he has done well. He will graduate in December, a semester behind schedule. He had to drop out last fall when he broke his leg after being hit by a car riding his bike home from class; he couldn’t participate in his geology field trips on crutches. He has a paid internship this summer, and hopes after graduation he will land a job doing field work. He doesn’t want to be in an office all the time. Will he be “successful?” He is easily bored. Will he eventually go to graduate school? Maybe, but not soon. Will he travel? I’m sure of it. When he returned from New Zealand, I knew he was ready, willing, and able to succeed in college. I think he’ll find his way.

My daughter, now three years past high school graduation, believes she is not ready, willing, and able to succeed in college. In her defense, she is plagued with undefined illnesses despite years of doctors and tests. She tried college for a semester, but took a medical withdraw. She tried an online class and withdrew within two weeks, again because of health constraints. She believes her health issues prevent her from working. It is a difficult situation, and one, that as a parent, is painful and heartbreaking to watch. She is an intelligent young woman paralyzed by her circumstances, unable to move forward. We latch on to the next “hope” and I pray that someday soon she will be ready, willing, and able to find her way.

The point of all this? Just to say that even after all we do to help and guide our teenagers to be ready, willing, and able to succeed beyond high school, it usually doesn’t look like what we envisioned. That is okay. If we do our best to give them the tools, the responsibilities, the freedoms, the consequences, allow them to experience failure, and the encouragement to try again, then I believe they have the best chance to find that path to success—no matter how long it takes.

June 5, 2014

It appears that a couple or so years ago, a new concept in teaching high school students about finances took hold. Now in several high schools across the country, students, their parents, and their teachers can walk down the school’s hall to a student-staffed bank branch to make a deposit, a withdraw, or even to get a small low-interest loan. What an idea—teach students about finances by opening a real bank in their school. Understanding finances and how to manage them is a must for success in college or anything beyond high school.

There is a whole chapter in Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? that touts the importance of teaching teenagers how to manage money. Unfortunately, it is a skill that students often lack when they graduate from high school. When those students find themselves on their own, whether at college, traveling, working, or whatever, they discover quickly how little they know about finances and how easily money problems can derail their situation.

The concept of a student-run bank branch sounds like an innovative, engaging way to instruct teenagers in finances. Students apply to staff the school banks, are trained by the bank, and earn a salary. They, in turn, help to teach their fellow students about savings, budgeting, interest, and other aspects of financial management.

For example, Capitol One Bank, which has school branches in New York, New Jersey and Maryland, says each of its student bankers works a summer in a Capitol One Bank as tellers and customer service representatives, spend two weeks in formal teller training, take a financial education class, and participates in a week-long college development program to plan their college application process. One of the goals of Capitol One Bank’s school banking program is to steer students toward a successful college experience.

Union Bank, which operates school banks primarily in low-income neighborhoods in California, offers a similar program, including college scholarship monies. One complaint about the programs is that students have no choice of banks if they want to use the school site. Individual banks work with school districts to gain access, and use bank funds to build the banking space and pay for student training and salaries. That seems a minor complaint when it offers so much opportunity to the student bankers as well as their peers.

It would seem that the school bank program is an appealing way to engage students in learning about real-life finances. If they can graduate with reasonable financial literacy, then those teenagers have a better chance of being successful in college and beyond.

To read articles about school banking programs: http://www.npr.org/2014/06/04/318489887/as-banks-open-in-schools-a-chance-for-students-to-learn-to-save, and http://wavenewspapers.com/business/article_c1ea2f78-d7c6-11e3-af6a-0017a43b2370.html.

May 21, 2014

It is graduation time again, and that means smiling families, lots of photos, parties, and questions about the future. Once the celebrating dies down, college-bound students look forward to the last summer before leaving home, while the non-college bound usually jump right into “freedom” and life on their own. Whatever lies ahead, this is a good time for students to consider what they might encounter and, as hard as it might be to admit, what guidance they still may need in order to be successful in school or life.

Finances: Many students encounter their largest learning curve with budgeting, paying bills, and generally managing money—issues that can derail college students as well as those out on their own. Fresh graduates moving into apartments or housing other than dorms will be responsible for getting utilities and garbage pickup set up in their name, as well as signing a lease. Before moving in, figure out if gas, electric, and water are all on one bill or through separate companies, and find out what are reasonable rates so that any spikes in usage can be questioned. Read a lease and understand what it says before signing, and be prepared to pay first and last month’s rent and a damage deposit up front.

Open a bank account and fully understand how it works. Ask about fees, checks, debit cards, and credit cards, and how each work. Pay particular attention to the dangers of credit cards.

Most importantly, make a budget and stick to it. Ask parents for help or look online, but make a realistic budget, pay bills on time, and figure out how to have fun on the cheap.

Be prepared: The summer after high school graduation is often a carefree time spent with friends before heading in various directions for college, gap year programs, certification programs, military, or work. While having the last hooray is important, it is the wise student who is prepared for what is to come. If going to college, research some important deadlines before you start: final drop/add dates, tuition and fee deadlines, and financial aid deadlines. Get into the habit of reading email on a daily basis, as colleges send important messages about deadlines and requirements. Attend orientation to learn more about those deadlines, locate important campus offices and buildings, meet your advisor, and map out the closest coffee shop.

The summer after graduation also is the time to create or update a resume, particularly for job seekers. Contact people who are willing to be references and have their information available before applying for a job.

Be realistic: Leaving home for the first time can be a heady experience, but most students encounter emotions and situations that they were not expecting. Students are surprised when they are hit with a wave of homesickness, are lost when a roommate relationship turns sour, are shaken when they get a D on paper or exam, and can be overwhelmed with the party scene. When loneliness, anger, frustration, fear, or bewilderment rise up, it is okay to contact mom and dad, or school counselors for guidance and encouragement. It’s all part of the process of being successful in college and life after high school.

April 30, 2014

I admit, I get exasperated every time I read another article that basically states the same ideas readers can find in Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? Neither my book nor I am a big enough name to be noticed by the “well-knowns,” and so I report when their blogs, articles, books, affirm Toward College Success.

Nancy Flanagan, a regular blogger for Education Today, recently wrote a piece titled: “College-Ready?” While she does discuss what makes a student “college ready,” she first challenges the idea that going to college, picking a college, and picking a career mostly should be based on rate of return. I completely agree. Not long ago, I wrote about the value of learning for learning sake, the value of stretching one’s cognitive abilities, the value of studying and discussing challenging and diverse subjects. Flanagan states that the primary trajectory toward college is: “1) Being college ready. 2) Being successful in college (completing a degree program, admission to the next level). 3) Using those degrees to leverage more money and prestige.”

If that is what a student wants for her life, then good for her. Hopefully she has the drive, the maturity, and all the skills to make it happen. But, of course, there are other paths to a fulfilling and successful life—vocations, certifications, apprenticeships, military—but these often carry the stigma that these paths are not as lucrative or fulfilling—two terms that should be defined by personal interests, goals, and priorities, not by the world at large.

Flanagan writes: “What do we expect to get out of a college degree? It’s very rare to hear policymakers or thought leaders talk about depth of disciplinary knowledge, exposure to diverse viewpoints and the art of argument, guidance in learning to create or solve problems–or lead. Instead, we get lifetime salary estimates as payoff for slogging our way to a credential. Nobody talks about personal satisfaction or the benefits of an educated populace.”

 

As for college readiness, Flanagan says that being college ready is having the “self awareness” to wisely choose a field of study and having a clear purpose for going. To be successful in college, Flanagan says, takes maturity, something she doubts many freshly graduated high school students possess. So what does she suggest? One is to take a gap year if you can find one that you can afford.

 

But mostly she suggests getting out and living. “Get a Joe job. Move out and live independently, or with roommates. Pay your own utility bills. Sponge off your parents for home-cooked leftovers and access to the washing machine. Travel to places you’ve never been. Think about how you’d like to live, as an adult. Dream. Read. Make mistakes.”

 

Great advice—found in Toward College Success as well. After such an exploration, maybe that student will decide it’s time for college.

 

To read Flanagan’s article: http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/teacher_in_a_strange_land/2014/04/college_ready.html?cmp=ENL-EU-NEWS3

 

April 15, 2014

Not too long ago I visited with a retired English teacher who took on a semester-long substitute teaching gig for a middle school English Language Learners class. The school assured that it would be easy for her—only half a day teaching, all lesson plans available, and small classes. In what she calls “a weak moment,” she agreed. To her dismay, she found herself with students who not only have no foundation in English, but little foundation in learning how to learn, and no idea or incentive on how to be successful students.  

Most of this teacher’s students are from Mexico, have low elementary-level reading and writing skills, and know little about appropriate classroom behavior, such as raising your hand to ask a question. Out went the lesson plans; this teacher created lessons to fit the situation at hand instead of trying to stick to a prescribed program that simply wasn’t working.

What was really needed, she said, was an opportunity to give these students hands-on life skills that will serve them well in both school and the workplace. We discussed what that might look like: going to school for half a day, then having some type of vocational training in the community. Such an opportunity would give these students a chance to learn teamwork, learn appropriate behavior in a workplace, build confidence in spoken language skills, and introduce them to various occupations.

What they didn’t need, this teacher said, was to sit in classrooms all day being fed curriculum for which they did not have adequate background. Such situations enforce the fact that they are behind, overwhelm them to the point of giving up, or create an atmosphere in which they act up to overpower their confusion and feeling of inadequacies. Why try when you are so far behind? Why try when you believe you are doomed to fail? Why try when you don’t see the point?

I do think offering outside vocational work is a great idea for students as young as middle school as well as for high schoolers. I also realize it takes a school district with the manpower and funding to create such a program—not obstacles easy to overcome—plus it takes community businesses and industry willing to step up and offer such opportunities. As overwhelming as those tasks may seem, I do believe it would be highly beneficial to all involved: the school district, the community, and the students. It doesn’t do anyone any good for students to do little besides occupy a seat in a classroom.

To really “educate” students, we need a school situation that offers more than a one-size fits all curriculum. Yes, there are some academic skills that all students need to learn, but wouldn’t it be better to give those who prefer “getting on with life,” to learn a marketable skill at the same time they are learning how to write a paper or compute an algebraic equation? Or better yet, turn that paper into a report for the business in which they are training and that math lesson into figuring the accounts receivable.

And as for college—well it will always be there if they decide later to pursue that route. As Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? states: college is not for everyone, and it certainly isn’t necessary to go straight to college after high school. Our education system needs to help all students find their path toward success.

April 1, 2014

A recent debate between two writer/educators caught my attention. The debate: Should schools prepare students for college or something else? My gross summary of their debate is that they both thought students should be well educated as it enhances and benefits lives, but that college doesn’t have to be the end goal. As Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? points out, being prepared for college and being prepared for success on one’s own require many of the same skills.

Many of the points that Robert Pondiscio of CitizenshipFirst makes in his post, “If Not College, Then What?” supports the premise of Toward College Success. He writes: “…I do not believe that a student has ‘failed’ if he or she doesn’t go to college. There are many ways to live a rich and fruitful life. I do think we have failed, however, if a child remains in our care for 13 years and does not leave prepared to live independently, whether or not they attend college.”

 

But in order to live that “rick and fruitful life,” Pondiscio states that our “big-picture goals for schooling—reading comprehension, critical thinking, problem-solving—depend on specific knowledge”—something teachers and parents need to understand. If they understand, then “a grounding in history, mathematics, science, literature, and the arts would be seen and seen correctly as the route to the outcomes we seek for all learners”—no matter what the student chooses to do after high school.

 

Pondiscio defines adult success partly as “the ability to care for oneself and one’s family. We fulfill our responsibilities as citizens by making our own way in the world, freely and independently.” He concludes by stating that teachers and schools must sell independence and self-sufficiency as strongly as going to college is sold.

 

Regardless of what a post-high school student pursues, that student will need to be mature enough to handle conflicts, resilient enough to find her way through life’s roadblocks, and adaptive enough to find the path to a fulfilling life. While Pondiscio was debating the role of schools in teaching such skills, I believe parents must be even more involved in both modeling and teaching those life skills. Such lessons should begin at home, long before a teenager nears high school graduation.

 

In fact, that is why Toward College Success was written—to drive home the point to parents that it takes much more than academic success to be successful in college or in any aspect of life beyond living at home with mom and dad. Yes, some of it is basic parenting, but once our kids hit the teenage years, it is critical to reinforce those life skills by gradually giving them responsibility and letting them learn from their mistakes.

 

To read Pondiscio’s post, go to:  http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/Bridging-Differences/2014/01/if_not_college_then_what.html

To read the post he debates, go to: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/Bridging-Differences/2014/01/deborah_meier_continues_her_co.html

March 21, 2014

While giving a presentation a few weeks ago to a local school, I was introduced to a fine program offered by Colorado State University. The Dream Project is a “student-initiated, student-run high school outreach program that focuses on peer-to-peer mentorship.” CSU students give their time and energy to helping first generation and low-income high school students figure out the right-fit college, maneuver the college application process, and successfully make it to higher education.

After I had finished my presentation, a group of energetic CSU Dream Project members explained the program and encouraged high school students to contact them if they had questions. Their enthusiasm and eagerness to help was inspiring, and the Dream Project appears to be a great resource for local high school students.

In its second year, CSU’s Dream Project is closely modeled on the University of Washington’s program, embracing the same mission, values, goals, and name as UW’s Dream Project. CSU’s Dream Project not only offers high school students college application assistance that they may not have at home, but it teaches “CSU students about educational opportunity and social mobility and examines these ideas in the context of Colorado State University.” CSU Dream Project students attend a class that meets twice a week—“once as an entire class as part of the CSU course and once with their smaller group at their assigned high school to work with the students. Since the Dream Project is a CSU course as well as an outreach program, participating students can receive up to two credits per quarter.”

In Fort Collins, Dream Project members have a presence at two area high schools, but they encourage students from any high school to contact them. They begin working with students in the junior year to point them toward courses they should take, encourage them to get involved in community service, research colleges, prepare for the SAT and/or ACT, and help them start scholarship searches. In the senior year, Project members help students through the application process, including getting letters of recommendation, writing entrance essays, and filling out financial aid forms. In addition, Project members will take high school students around the CSU campus to give them a feel for college life, and they hold social events to build community.

Because the CSU Dream Project is relatively new, it is still building its program, but one goal is to offer scholarships in the future. UW’s Dream Project offers small scholarships from monies raised entirely by UW students.

The Dream Project model appears to be a win-win program for both high school and college students. So far, the model has been adopted only by CSU and Rutgers University—I do hope other universities will join in to promote this program of students helping students.

To read more about CSU’s Dream Project, go to: http://accesscenter.colostate.edu/dream

For UW’s, go to:  http://www.washington.edu/dreamproject/about/

March 5, 2014

Last night, after I gave a presentation at a local school, a father asked if there was a book or website or something that listed all of the alternatives to going straight to college after high school. I had just finished describing some, but he proceeded to tell me about an apprenticeship program that I did not know. The Registered Apprenticeship program, structured and monitored by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA), brings together people seeking work with businesses seeking workers through a paid apprenticeship. When I took a closer look, I couldn’t help but think what a great option this is for those who do not want to go to college straight out of high school or even at all.

According to the Labor Department’s website, the Registered Apprenticeship program “is a unique, flexible training system that combines job related technical instruction with structured on-the-job learning experiences…It provides the opportunity for workers seeking high-skilled, high- paying jobs and for employers seeking to build a qualified workforce.”

The way I understand it is that businesses seeking people to train in their industry post open apprenticeship opportunities on the ETA website. The website explains who is eligible to apply and how to apply, and what the applicant can expect. Those accepted into apprenticeships immediately start earning a salary as they work and learn along the way. Salaries increase as skill level increases. The apprenticeships range from one to six years, with four years being the most common. And while construction and manufacturing industries are the most common businesses that use the Registered Apprenticeship program, applicants also can find openings in health care, energy, law enforcement, auto mechanics, telecommunications, food service, and more.

According to the website, the benefits to applicants include: improved skills and competencies, incremental wage increases as skills improve, on-the-job training, career advancement, industry issued and nationally recognized credentials, and articulation agreements “between certain apprenticeship training programs and 2- and 4-year colleges that create opportunities for college credit and future degrees.”

 

That last benefit is particularly appealing. Not only do these apprentices start right off earning a salary while learning a trade, there is opportunity to go to college at a later date if the apprentice so desires. And some of the employers will partially or fully fund that education.

 

I think this is a great program—one that is appealing to wide a range of high school graduates: from those who want to earn money right away and gain valuable training along the way, to those for whom college is simply too expensive.

 

If you have a student who could benefit from this program, definitely check it out. As Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? says: college right after high school is not the right path for every student. And the role of parents is to help their child find the path to success—no matter what path he or she chooses.

 

To see what apprenticeships are available in your area, go to: http://www.doleta.gov/OA. Scroll down to Registered Apprenticeship Program Sponsor Database, then put in your state and county.

Feb. 18, 2014

Education articles that spark debate are my favorites, so I perked up when I heard NPR reporting on a recently released study that shows high school grades are better indicators of how successful a student will be in college than are SAT and ACT results. This issue has been kicking around for quite a while, but the study seems to offer concrete evidence that our emphasis on standardized testing is not as valuable as it has been touted.

In the study, “”Defining Promise: Optional Standardized Testing Policies in American College and University Admissions,” main author William Hess, former dean of admissions at Bates College in Maine, said: “Human intelligence is so multifaceted, so complex, so varied, that no standardized testing system can be expected to capture it. My hope is that this study will be a first step in examining what happens when you admit tens of thousands of students without looking at their SAT scores. And the answer is, if they have good high school grades, they’re almost certainly going to be fine.”

Hess’ study looked at over three dozen schools for which submitting an ACT or SAT result is optional for admittance. He found that there was “virtually no difference in grades and graduation rates between test ‘submitters’ and ‘nonsubmitters’.”

The NPR report deduces from this research that high school grades matter quite a lot. NPR reported: “For both those students who submitted their test results to their colleges and those who did not, high school grades were the best predictor of a student’s success in college. And kids who had low or modest test scores, but good high school grades, did better in college than those with good scores but modest grades.”

I believe that more emphasis needs to be on what kids are learning in the classroom as opposed to how well they perform on standardized tests—particularly the ones our kids take in elementary, middle, and high school. However, I also recognize that there has to be some way to measure what and how much a student learns. I don’t have that solution, but instinctively I believe that if more emphasis was placed on creative, innovative teaching that students would have access to more meaningful and useful education. As one high school student said in the NPR story about taking SAT or ACT: “They’re not exactly a fair way to show our skills. I wish they could find some way to really show what we can do.”

And, of course, this study is looking at only the part academics has in a student’s success in college. Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? will tell you that, indeed, academics is only one part.

To read the NPR article, go to: http://www.npr.org/2014/02/18/277059528/college-applicants-sweat-the-sats-perhaps-they-shouldn-t. Be sure to read the comments following the story.