The Great American Teach-in is just a few days away. I happily volunteer every year to present to a class. The Great American Teach-In combines many of my core beliefs into one event: promotion of education, career exposure, and parents participating in their children’s lives. As a serial entrepreneur, I’ve done presentations on everything from the importance of volunteering (when I ran a non-profit) and the Titanic (when I was playing “Molly” Brown for the exhibit).
Introducing children to the variety of job-opportunities in the world is extremely important. How many of us were exposed only to traditional careers: doctor, lawyer, teacher, police officer? It has only been in the last fifteen years that I realized how incredibly vast and diverse careers can be. In fact, if you can’f find one that seems to fit–YOU CAN CREATE YOUR OWN!!
Our children will be in careers we haven’t even heard of yet, using technology that hasn’t been invented. We do a disservice to children when we don’t focus on giving them the tools they need to be successful in ALL jobs (like taking responsibility, English and math skills, and the ability to solve problems), and don’t encourage the imagination it will take to live in a world that has yet to be created.
This year, the theme at my daughter’s school is “College.” On Friday’s, students can wear college shirts instead of their uniforms. Teachers were encouraged to decorate their class with their college colors and mascots, in the beginning of the year. I want to continue the trend, and go a tad bit deeper into what college is all about, in a way early-elementary students could understand.
Most students, regardless of age, are influenced by their parents. “The likelihood of enrolling in postsecondary education is strongly related to parents’ education even when other factors are taken into account: among 1992 high school graduates whose parents had not gone to college, 59 percent had enrolled in some form of higher education by 1994. This rate increased to 75 percent among those whose parents had some college experience, and 93 percent among those who had at least one parent with a bachelor’s degree…. In 1999, 82 percent of students whose parents held a bachelor’s degree or higher enrolled in college immediately after finishing high school. The rates were much lower for those whose parents had completed high school but not college (54 percent) and even lower for those whose parents had less than a high school diploma (36 percent) (Indicator 26, The Condition of Education 2001).” (Choy, 2001) Students, themselves, stressed the importance of “early messaging, planning and exposure to college environments and expectations” for a “smoother transition to a college environment,” according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.
Teachers and educational institutions bear the responsibility for leveling the playing field as much as possible. Early exposure to the idea of continuing education and the possibilities of college is essential in elementary classrooms. Teachers might be the first role-model for college education that a student may encounter. A study done by ACT stated that, “Students revealed that teachers often provided them with information and guidance about classes and how their classes are connected to their postsecondary options and other factors.”
How can we begin the conversation?
I asked my daughter, who is in VPK,what she was going to study in college (just to see what she would say). Immediately, she asked if you could be a princess. When I said “no,” she said she wan’t interested in going. Yikes!! I followed that up by saying that princesses DO have to go to college, to learn how to be good leaders. I explained that college would teach her how to take care of her “subjects all across the land.” I asked her what types of things good princesses needed to do to help their people. She was back on board…WHEW!
On the day of the event, I’m using a short PowerPoint presentations to present the general idea of college (and generate a little excitement). My goal was to introduce some vocabulary and get them to recognize diplomas they may see around: teacher’s, parents’s, doctor/dentist office. The more connections they make with college now, the more they will be able to see themselves in college in the future.
Feel free to download and share this PowerPoint with your students or children.
Here some other activities you can do to begin the conversation about college:
- Read Mahalia Mouse Goes to College by Jonathan Lithgow or Judy Moody Goes to College by Megan McDonald
- Blue’s Clues episode “Steve Goes to College” (Season 4, Episode 24)
- Color college mascots.
- Mark all the colleges and universities on a map of your town (or state).
- Visit a college (especially a college library).
- Go to a college/university sporting event.
- Talk about careers and link the college subjects that would be helpful in those areas.
- Look into early scholarship opportunities–and apply! It’s a great habit to begin, and even small prizes add up. Here is a list of scholarships for children under the age of 13.
- Here’s a great booklet with other ideas, compiled by the Los Angeles Unified School District Instructional Support Services.
As with so many areas in life, we cannot let our adult fears cloud our children’s experience. Let the conversation be filled with excitement, promoting the importance of a love of learning, regardless of your experience with college. Children pick up on our emotions and insecurities and embrace them as their own. My sister, who lived in the same house with the same parents, had a completely different outlook on going to college. For her, it never seemed like an option. She told me how meaningful it would have been for our parents to have had a direct discussion with her about going. Even though there was “college”talk” floating around in our house, she never felt like a part of it. Having continued her education a an adult, she wishes that our parents had helped her understand how to pay for school as well.
Share this presentation with your children or use it for the Teach-In!! Feel free to use this coloring sheet as an extra activity.