Aug 31, 2009

Thanks for the reminder

About a month ago, I volunteered for College Summit, an organization that strives to increase college access for youth from first-generation college backgrounds (among other underrepresented social identities). Soon-to-be seniors in high school were nominated by teachers or administrators at their school to attend a weekend-long workshop where they learned how to submit a college application as well as write a draft of a personal essay. Students chosen were described as "middle-level", not quite the top of the class but college-bound with some extra work. All of these students were also chosen because of leadership qualities or influential roles at school.

I worked as a writing coach; my role was to aid students in finding their voice and telling their story. I was brought back to my time in my Education 190 course. It was a democratic setting where teachers, or coaches in this case, stood on equal footing as students. Part of the process actually had me asking permission from students to coach them. The onus was all on the students to take advantage of the weekend.

The work that we accomplished was amazing and I am not surprised. The Peer Leaders (as we called them) were very bright students who have accomplished plenty despite facing major hardships. The next step for these students? As Peer Leaders, they were to return to their respective schools and use what they learned in College Summit classes. Because many were recognized as influential in their high schools, the goal is to have them lead by example and create a "college-going culture".

This experience brought up 2 things. 1) This work makes me happy and I really should keep access organizations in mind when I job search. 2) The idea of a "college-going culture" intrigues me. I assume that some schools have this culture inherently. Schools in upper-middle to high-income neighborhoods. Schools with a majority population. Schools where a majority of parents attended college and understand the application process and college experience. Schools that have connections with institutions of higher education.

College Summit is trying to create something that doesn't exist at these schools and they are doing it in a grass-roots way by starting with the students. I'm still forming my opinion on this strategy but I can't argue with empowering the students. There's nothing more powerful than seeing students fighting for their own education and opportunities. Now, if we could only get some help on the admissions and assessment side of the question...

My experience was definitely worthwhile and I encourage all of you to check out opportunities to get involved with College Summit. With all of my jabber about the college-going culture, I'd love to hear about aspects of your schools that help to foster a college-going culture. Does your school promote this type of culture? What are the challenges? What are some opportunities to confront those challenges?

1 comment:

danielle duong said...

Great post Mark. I really enjoyed reading about your experience with College Summit.

The coined phrase "college going culture" definitely lit my mind when I read it. I automatically thought of my high school in Orange County. If you evaluate the quality of the "college going culture" at my school based on the number of honors/AP courses offered, API score, number of students who moved on to higher education, surrounding environment, etc... I guess you could say that the "college going culture" is inherent to the school. Though I checked my thought pretty quickly by thinking about the number of people who I know did NOT move on to college. What happened there? Do we blame them for not working hard enough because Canyon obviously produces fairly successful students? Or should we evaluate this college going culture and assess how it matriculates to different communities and identities of students on campus. Who is falling through the cracks? Who is impacted by this culture? How is the college going culture cultivated and who has access to it? How does the college going culture at school compare to that at home?

So... thanks again for the thought provoking post. More questions to ponder though =]

Cheers!