College and career readiness at the middle school level can no longer be an afterthought in education. We clearly aren’t doing enough as a country, especially for students of color and students from lower-income households. Data tells us these groups of students tend to limit their aspirations for high school and beyond if they do not receive college and career readiness programming while in middle school.
“We give students the tools to achieve their aspirations and goals — and in many cases, aim higher than they ever have before.”
The earlier we focus on postsecondary readiness, the better. College and career readiness programming, when introduced early in life, can successfully uproot self-limiting notions that exist within students when they enter high school. At Education Opens Doors, we have found a way to equip students with critical information to make informed postsecondary decisions. We give students the tools to achieve their aspirations and goals — and in many cases, aim higher than they ever have before. By focusing on students’ strengths, middle school students may stay engaged through high school, regardless of common educational hurdles.
“We at Education Opens Doors also challenge what it means to be college and career “ready.”
We at Education Opens Doors also challenge what it means to be college and career “ready.” The state of Texas provides financial bonuses to districts for each student that meets their definition of college and career ready. Historically, that definition has primarily focused on simply graduating from high school and individual standardized test scores. But at EOD, we know a student’s postsecondary readiness is dependent upon so much more than a diploma. There are 21st Century skills that are aligned with the needs of our workforce, and we need to ensure students are learning those skills that aren’t typically taught during the average school day.
“Focusing on college and career readiness in middle school is resulting in the opposite of stressing out young students and their families about the future – it’s giving them control over it.”
Educators and families are thinking about how we prepare our children to be lifelong learners with a positive outlook for their futures. We want students to be engaged in school and see a clear, bright future for themselves and their families. And we want students to be able to understand the steps required to achieve that future. This requires a specific skill-set that must be taught. But oftentimes, the idea of college and career readiness programming in middle school is met with questions.
“Can’t it wait until high school?”
“Isn’t this just stressing kids out at too early of an age?”
“Are we rushing young students to grow up when they should just be worried about being kids?”
These questions are misguided. Focusing on college and career readiness in middle school is resulting in the opposite of stressing out young students and their families about the future – it’s giving them control over it. Here are typically my top three answers about why districts should be talking to middle schoolers about their postsecondary plans:
1). Career exploration and learning increases student engagement
Our teachers have seen significant improvements in student engagement, behavior and excitement for the future as a result of the Education Opens Doors program.
2.) Learning about certain career pathways helps students connect school to their future
Research shows that middle school students develop rigid feelings about their time in middle school; if those feelings are negative or rife with confusion, counseling in high school often can’t make up for the losses in middle school. Our program helps students connect their learning to where they want to go in the future.
3.) Students need to make critical decisions about their future before entering high school
Our program instructs students on how to build their skills and interests by picking schools of choice and endorsements.
“We want to shift the thinking about what learning can and should be like at the middle school level to best prepare our students.”
In middle school, students begin to choose what classes they take and begin to choose pathways for high school. While this can create a sense of purpose in students, there is inequity in which students have access to the critical information needed to make determined decisions.
The Education Opens Doors program, now in its 11th year, focuses on every student’s diverse selection of postsecondary path options going beyond four year colleges to include lengthy discussions of vocational and technical schools, entering the workforce, joining the military and more. Our program now also includes the creation of a student career portfolio. This creative project can be shortened or extended depending on the regional or logistical needs of teachers and students.
At EOD, I have had the privilege to see the impact that these postsecondary learning experiences have had on young students. Our program helps students understand their goals, aptitudes, likes and dislikes. It truly connects education with real life. With its lasting impact, college and career knowledge and literacy should no longer be a missing component of middle school education.
Education Opens Doors is working hard to partner with our local school districts to help all students be ready for a future beyond middle school and eventually beyond high school. Through professional learning for administrators and teachers, we want to shift the thinking about what learning can and should be like at the middle school level to best prepare our students.