Guest opinion: Leveling the field for college
April 27, 2013
For many students, a ZIP code may determine their college and career options.
Comparing course catalogs between urban and rural high schools reveals a startling opportunity gap. In Spokane, high school students choose from a rich menu of honors, accelerated and Advanced Placement courses.
Forty miles north, students at Mary Walker High School choose from three AP classes. Of those three, none is in science or mathematics. By contrast, Spokane high schools offer AP biology, AP chemistry, AP physics, AP environmental science, AP statistics and AP calculus. In addition to honors sections in both science and math, students may choose rigorous courses in robotics, biomedicine and engineering.
Rural districts face three main obstacles in providing coursework that opens college doors to low-income students. In small schools, qualified faculty may not be available for courses in advanced science, mathematics and world languages. Small enrollments make it difficult to cost-effectively offer “low-demand” specialized classes such as AP calculus and AP physics. Finally, purchasing online courses from national vendors in the numbers needed is beyond the means of most rural districts in a time of relentless budget cuts.
Equity demands that key college preparatory coursework be accessible to all students in Washington, regardless of geographic location or size of their school. Last year, the Rural Alliance was awarded a three-year grant to address this issue by College Spark Washington, a private foundation that funds programs across Washington helping low-income students become college-ready and earn their degrees.
Over three years, the Digital Learning Cooperative will create and offer 10 college preparatory courses for students, and develop a business model to continue and expand the program beyond the term of the grant. The 48 districts involved in this project will identify talented teachers in math, science and world languages, and provide them with the support and training to design and deliver high-quality coursework. Similarly, the districts will pool their students to create a critical mass of candidates to take advantage of these highly demanding, specialized classes.
By leveraging the combined enrollment of small districts to form partnerships, the Rural Alliance is able to share best practices and develop projects aimed at equipping all students for college and career success.
For our current students, this project will, at least, provide course options they wouldn’t have otherwise. That’s important, but the issue runs deeper. At one time, particularly for schools where few students went on to college, the goal of simply getting students to the college door seemed sufficient and worthwhile. But even as most of our districts have increased the number of students enrolling in college, we are seeing the limitations of this goal.
The idea that college admissions means every possibility is open to students is far from the case. Course offerings available in a given high school are either gateways or roadblocks to college options. Therefore, developing a course catalog comparable to those available at large, affluent districts is itself a valuable service for rural students.
But even here, access to courses is only part of the equation. The more important considerations go beyond course titles to the academic experiences that result from completing them. All coursework worth engaging in should target and develop content knowledge clearly connected with a conceptual understanding of a particular discipline, as well as the thinking skills and work habits that are essential to college success.
As the Digital Learning Cooperative continues to progress, we look forward to learning of this year’s Community Grants Program award recipients – announced in late April – and their projects to improve student outcomes.
Kevin Jacka is superintendent at Mary Walker School District and a partner of the Rural Alliance, a 2012 grantee of the Community Grants Program of College Spark. College Spark Washington funds programs across the state that help low-income students become college-ready and earn their degrees.
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Relay Race to College Institute
Held at SCC this Spring
More than 50 superintendents, principals, school counselors and teachers from rural districts across EasternWashington participated in the Relay Race to
The three-day event began on Sunday evening with a welcome dinner where school counselors and other leaders discussed sustainability strategies to continue the important work being accomplished through this grant beyond June.
Day two was held at Spokane Community College (SCC) and featured numerous presentations on best practices being undertaken in area high schools and colleges to promote college access for rural students. Representatives from area businesses also shared perspectives and career opportunities for students seeking entry-level employment.
Day two also featured a tour of SCC’s Stannard Building to introduce attendees to the college’s extensive educational programs in manufacturing, machining, architecture and engineering,
On day three, participants began by visiting Collegiate Housing International Spokane, a low-cost housing alternative for college students. Afterwards, area businesses hosted small groups in on-site tours and a presentation to learn about various industries inthe Spokane area. The morning tour featured Spokane Teachers Credit Union and the Avista Lineman School. During the afternoon, participants chose between Altek Innovative Manufacturing Solutions and Air Washington.
Report from the
Tri-County College Access Network
By Landon Johnston School Counselor,
November- When it comes to promoting college and career access to rural students, the Tri-County College Access Network (CAN) made history on Thursday,
The event, which brought together students from 7 area high schools, included presentations related to 15 different career fields. The main focus of the presentations was connecting possible careers with the education, experience and skills needed to work in those fields and presenters came from all over Eastern Washington to participate. High schools represented at the event included Columbia (Hunters), Inchelium, Kettle Falls, Northport, Republic, Selkirk and Wellpinit.
The day began with the featured keynote speaker, Kevin Parker, reciting a touching and inspirational speech in which he encouraged students to pursue their dreams. Parker, a State Representative (6th District-Spokane), is also an adjunct business professor at Whitworth University and a successful entrepreneur. His company, Dutch Bros. Coffee, had several representatives on hand to present to the students.
Following Parker’s welcoming address, students were then split into separate presentation groups. Each group then rotated between the three presentation sections. Each session lasted about 30 minutes, at the end of which students were allowed to ask questions of the presenters. One presentation group featured careers focused on government and military jobs while another group focused on small-business owners and entrepreneurs. The final group showcased
businesspeople connected with the trades and service jobs. Representatives from both Eastern Washington University and the Community Colleges of Spokane were also on hand to provide educational information to students.
Lastly, after each group had a chance to listen to every presenter, an optional lunch period provided further opportunities to visit with the presenters one-on-one. Event organizers provided lunch to presenters and chaperones as they chatted with students. Start to finish, the fair lasted approximately three hours.
Overall, the Inaugural Tri-County Career Fair was an
overwhelming success and from the feedback gathered so far, there are high hopes to make it an annual occasion. Special thanks to the following
organizations for their efforts with the planning, coordinating and running of the event: NorthEast Washington ESD 101, Community Colleges of Spokane-Colville Center, College Access Challenge Grant and the Washington College Network.
College Bound Scholarship Makes College Possible
for Washington Students
Middle and high school students throughout Washington are realizing the promise of a college education through the College Bound Scholarship – a state-funded program being implemented by the Washington Student Achievement Council in partnership with the College Success Foundation (CSF).
Staff from NEWESD 101’s College Access Challenge Grant (CACG) are working with CSF to sign up all qualifying students and assist school districts in achieving college readiness goals.
All income-eligible and foster students in Washington state are eligible if they sign up by June 30 of their 8th grade year. In their senior year of school, students meeting the following four conditions will be eligible to receive the scholarship: 1) They still qualify as low-income or foster youth 2) have a 2.0 or higher grade point average 3) do not have any felony offenses and 4) complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
The graduating class of 2012 was the first class to receive the College Bound Scholarship. More than 9,800 College Bound 2012 seniors filed the FAFSA. Ninety percent met the requirement of a 2.0 GPA or higher and 50% achieved a 3.0 GPA or higher. This equates to more students being able to attend college!
Rosella Covington, a counselor at Grand Coulee Dam Middle School, begins encouraging college aspirations early by telling 6th grade students about the scholarship. With only 171students, Covington gets to know each student and most of their families. This helps her connect with parents and educate them about the importance of a college education.
“We really have to get to know parents,” said Covington.
At student-led conferences, all parents are asked to complete a College Bound Scholarship enrollment form. She is persistent, following up with parents who do not attend the conference on a student-by-student basis.
Covington also reports that teaching staff are incredibly supportive, never complaining about the time she spends in their classrooms talking about the scholarship and college, or when she has to call individuals out to her office. The teachers share their college spirit with the students and uphold the message that college is attainable.
Renee Jungblom, counselor at Jenkins Middle School in Chewelah, is also successfully enrolling eligible students for the College Bound Scholarship with strong support from administrators and teachers alike. Early in the year, she visits classrooms to speak to students as a whole about college and the scholarship. Afterwards, she follows-up with eligible students individually to ensure they fully understand the program. Often, students inadvertently miscommunicate the College Bound Scholarship to their parents. To overcome this obstacle, she contacts parents directly to ensure they are fully aware that the scholarship provides free money for college.
Jungblom notes that Jenkins Middle School teachers also advocate the importance and attainability of college. They promote college awareness by participating in regular colleget-shirt days and sharing their own college experiences with students.
The combined averages for signing up last year’s eligible 8th graders through out the region served by the CACG grant totaled 70% with several schools achieving 100% (see Side Bar).
For more information about the College Bound Scholarship you may contact your region’s counselor:
ESD101 – Keith Slim-Tolagai, firstname.lastname@example.org, (509) 251-3787; ESD 105 – Esperanza Lemos; email@example.com, (509) 833-4540; ESD 123 – Teresa Santoy;firstname.lastname@example.org, (509) 840-0332; ESD 171 – Rebecca Hightower, email@example.com, (509) 322-6788.
Schools enrolling 100% of eligible 8th grade students for the College Bound Scholarship in2012 (listed by ESD and school district).
Northport School District Sets New Standard for College Campus Visits
Located just eight miles south of the Canadian Border in Stevens County, Washington, Northport School District is home to less than 300 students, many who have never traveled more than a few miles from home.
But things are changing quickly in this small rural community as a result of a district-sponsored college campus blitz held this past fall. In an effort to increase the college-going rate among its high school graduates, 80 students from grades 5 – 12 were taken on a full-day outing to a college campus in the Spokane area. Middle school students visited Eastern Washington University in Cheney while students in grades 9 – 12 went in one of three groups to Whitworth University, Spokane Falls Community College or Spokane Community College. Funds from the College Access Challenge grant supported the outings.
Students were able to visit college classrooms, learn about the college admissions process and explore fields of study as diverse as culinary arts, fire sciences, construction management, prosthetics, graphic design, science, theater arts and entomology (the study of insects) among others.
Some of the tours were led by current college students, enabling middle and high school students and their families a chance to interact and learn first-hand what college is all about.
“Most of our students are first-generation college students,” said Tanis Shippy, school counselor. “The tour gave them a taste of college and created a high level of excitement, especially among middle school students, who spoke about the experience for days.”
Following the campus tours, students and chaperones took an excursion to a central location in downtown Spokane via the city bus, adding a new dimension to the outing. Many of the students commented that this was their first visit to Spokane.
Northport also sponsors many other initiatives to motivate its students towards post-secondary education. AVID, a college readiness system, serves students in grades 6 – 12 and the program may soon be expanding to 5th grade students. Students may also access Navigation101 and the WOIS career information system. Numerous classrooms are adorned with decorations featuring various Alma Mater and teachers wear college-themed attire on Wednesdays.
As part of their culminating project, Northport’s seniors will be required to begin completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). To further support students and families as they navigate the complex process of accessing federal and state financial aid for college, a FAFSA workshop will be held on Jan. 9.
For more information on best practices being implemented to help Northport students successfully transition to college, contact Tanis Shippy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Inchelium Students Walk the Red Carpet
Nestled between Lake Roosevelt and the mountains on the Colville Indian Reservation in Northeastern Washington, Inchelium School is molding its students for exciting and successful futures, even leading them to walk on the red carpet.
Although the small population is geographically isolated, many of its 200 students are getting a taste of college prior to high school graduation through campus visits and other initiatives organized by district officials. In fact, Inchelium is one of the few districts in the entire state to begin college preparation in the 3rd grade, where teachers are implementing strategies designed to prepare students for college readiness and success.
Many of the college campus visits are organized around sports and other events to provide students with a full experience that truly broadens their horizons. Near the beginning of this school year, 35 middle and high school students toured Eastern Washington University (EWU) and attended an Eagles football game. Last year, the trip to EWU concluded in Spokane with a visit to the Broadway musical “Stomp.” Students presented the Broadway cast with a ceremonial Native hand drum. The cast was so honored that they played the drum at the show’s conclusion, drawing excitement from the entire audience and leaving the students beaming with pride.
“A lot of our students haven’t been to Spokane. These campus visits help them feel connected,” said Landon Johnston, the school’s counselor.
During the most recent visit to EWU, the students visited with two college freshmen who had graduated from Inchelium the previous year. They also prepared and delivered a care package to the recent graduates.
For Cougar Access Day, students visited the Washington State University (WSU) campus where they received a personal address from the university president and participated in a campus tour. The visit concluded with a bar-b-que and Cougar football game. Later this fall, students will attend a college fair and visit the Community Colleges of Spokane campuses.
The district is leveraging resources through partnerships and grant funding to deliver an education that is above and beyond expectations. All 7th and 8th grade students are encouraged to apply for the College Bound Scholarship, which virtually guarantees college funding for eligible students. In addition, grant-funded programs including GEAR UP, Advanced Placement Incentive Program and the College Access Challenge Grant provide a spectrum of services and support to foster a college-going culture for all students.
The district also has adopted Advancement Via Individual Determination, commonly known as AVID, a program that works to close achievement gaps by raising student expectations for themselves and preparing all students for college. Half of the district’s teachers either teach an AVID class or are implementing AVID strategies in the classroom and nearly all middle and high school teachers have been trained in AVID. Additionally, AVID is embedded into the daily curriculum of Inchelium’s elementary classrooms beginning in 3rd grade.
“It is a district priority to help our students get to college and succeed in college,” said Johnston. “They need to know that they can do it.”
These initiatives are paying off with more than half of Inchelium’s high school graduates going directly to college and as many as 90% successfully transiting to their sophomore year. Indeed, the walk on the red carpet is transforming lives and helping students build successful futures.
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