Last month I attended an open house for the Seattle-area College Access Network (CAN). The CAN is a collaboration between both the community and technical colleges of South King County and Seattle promoting post-secondary success to K-12 students and their families. (Full disclosure – the CAN is run by the PSESD who also produce this blog).
As I walked into the conference room I was handed a paper leaf. The leaf asked me in warm friendly black letters “Why am I here?” I wasn’t sure how to answer this question. I recently had been asked to participate in a Bridge to College pilot by the state to prepare potential community college students for the rigors of college. But, honestly, I was here to listen. The open house included college admissions officers, career counselors, social workers, community leaders, and a career expert from the King County Library System. I wanted to hear what conversations were taking place in preparing K-12 students for college and career readiness.
I was also interested how the CAN is grappling with the Common Core. The promise of the architects of the Common Core is to prepare all students for college and career readiness in the 21st century. My district promotes college admission the day students start kindergarten. At my high school, we have multiple college and scholarship fairs throughout the year. Yet, I always wondered how the Common Core is preparing students for career readiness – something equally as important, but difficult to define. A network that is comprised of technical and community colleges seemed a good place to search for an answer.
The open house began with an introduction from PSESD Superintendent John Welch. Welch talked about growing up in a small rural town in Oregon and becoming the first person in his family to attend college. Welch said he was “here to to inspire any small town kid that they can rise and earn a college degree.” He added “we need to be intentional what it means to be college ready to all students.”
I liked his choice of the word “intentional.” I inferred what he meant was that “we” needed to be plain with students and their families how you get admitted to college, and what skills you need to become a successful college graduate.
Next was College Access Network Senior Coordinator Willie Seals III. Seals grew up in an urban neighborhood and said, “I am here because I am a first generation college educated student.” He then echoed Welch’s earlier sentiment, “I want to inspire other kids who share my situation.”
Then, we broke into subgroups. I was a member of the “Underrepresented Groups” committee. Our task was to generate strategies to reach out to populations who traditionally are underrepresented attending higher education. My group was composed of two admissions officers, a social worker, and Kendrick Glover, the other Senior Coordinator at the CAN. We suggested to the larger group that members of the network share our stories like John Welch and Willie Seals did to connect with underrepresented communities. In addition, we suggested the CAN host internship and apprenticeship fairs along with college and scholarship fairs, and even reach out to families when students are in middle school. As Glover put it, “I think college and career planning should begin in 7th grade.” He added, “By the time they are 8th graders, it may be too late.”
The evening concluded with us working in pairs developing a new name for the CAN that would both encapsulate whom the CAN represents and what mission it’s trying to accomplish. I felt empowered that everyone in attendance had agency in giving the CAN a new moniker.
After some concluding remarks from Seals and Glover, I exchanged business cards with people I networked with, and found myself volunteering to be on an advisory committee. As I was about to leave, I realized I hadn’t responded to the question on my paper leaf.
“Why am I here?” I glanced around the room to soak in the positive vibe of the evening. I wrote, “If the promise of the Common Core is to prepare all students for college and career readiness, and the CAN’s mission is to fulfill that promise in the Puget Sound region, then count me as committed.”
In the coming months, stay tuned to see if I fulfill that commitment.