Preparing students to be college and career ready takes a multifaceted approach with support in a number of areas.
In fact, our Merced City School District Superintendent and Associate Superintendent of Educational Services recently took part in a roundtable discussion about those efforts with leaders from other local educational agencies, as well as the Central Valley Higher Education Consortium, the Governor’s Office, and the California Department of Finance.
While it is a complex topic, one of the first steps is simply helping students to believe those goals are truly attainable.
Our schools tackle that challenge in a number of ways, including college and career fairs and trips to colleges and universities across the region.
Last Friday, I had the chance to join dozens of students from Reyes Elementary as they took a tour of Merced College. Their principal, Mr. Alexander, has a special connection to the campus because he attended classes there and played on the Blue Devils baseball team. He explained that the purpose of the trip was to reinforce his school’s vision statement: “Dream, Achieve, Succeed.”
The third through sixth graders who were selected for the learning excursion are all enrolled (and have had good attendance) in the After School Academic Advisory program, which helps students improve their study skills, self-esteem, and understanding of specific subjects.
After stepping off their buses, the Reyes Thunderbirds were warmly greeted by Merced College students and staff members who would serve as their tour guides. One of the guides engaged the young visitors by asking what they want to be when they grow up. Several small hands shot toward the sky, and the first three volunteers happily shared their dreams of becoming a scientist, a doctor, and a chef. Then they broke up into groups and began their journey through the campus to see how it could help put them on the path to those professions and many more.
They learned about acting classes and other performing arts opportunities at the theatre. They walked through the greenhouse and barn to learn about the college’s agriculture classes. They saw a parking lot full of cars being repaired by students in the industrial technology program. They got a glimpse of the Allied Health Center on campus (with a view of Mercy Medical Center in the background) which offers everything from Diagnostic Radiologic Technology to Registered Nursing programs. There were also stops at gym, the aquatics center, and the baseball diamond where the students learned about the possibilities for playing competitive sports or just focusing on their fitness.
Along the way, Mr. Alexander made many connections between those college courses and the classes his students have had a chance to experience at the elementary level. He had them raise their hands if they participated in the Reyes playwriting program, photography lessons, and many other extended day offerings. It was a way of making college feel even closer for the young scholars. He explained, “We want our students to realize that there are higher-education opportunities here locally that they can easily access once they complete high school or sometimes even before that.”
It’s a message that seemed to hit home with the students as they whispered about which classes they would like to take at the campus. Third grader Nyguel Thor told me he plans to become a scientist with a focus on animal genetics, so he enjoyed learning about all that Merced College has to offer. He said, “I think it’s actually pretty fun because I’m seeing all of these animals and buildings I’ve never seen before.”
So while a tour may be just one step toward college and career readiness, for these students it was certainly a step in the right direction.
Sara Sandrik, an Emmy Award-winning former journalist, is the public information officer for the Merced City School District. She can be reached at email@example.com.