A New Majority in Need of College and Career Readiness

College and career readiness refers to the content knowledge and skills high school graduates must possess to be successful in any and all future endeavors. For students who have ready access to resources and support that better prepare them for the world outside of high school, the thoughts of what they can achieve in a career may fill many with hope and anticipation.

For those students who live in low-income situations, however, there may be little thought for the future while dealing with the challenges of the present. How, then, does college and career readiness relate to students in poverty?

Current trends in education

As early as 2011, the Southern Education Foundation released a report identifying 17 states where low-income students, those eligible for free or reduced lunches, made up the majority of public school children. Thirteen of those states were in the southern portion of the United States.

With states continuing to report a gain of students identified as homeless, children in poverty have become the new majority. This special subgroup needs special consideration when approaching the topic of college and career readiness.

Hierarchy of needs

It would be great for educators and counselors to jump immediately to discussing college and career readiness with students in poverty, but how can an individual seriously devote time and effort beyond present needs when basic physiological requirements aren’t being met?

When developing a college and career readiness plan for low-income students, it may be beneficial to mirror the plan with Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  At the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid are physiological needs. Food, water, sleep and shelter build the foundation for a healthy person. Many schools provide free or reduced breakfast/lunch programs as well as other general resources to help meet these needs.

However, a learning culture that uses data as support for this level of need can often get a head start on identifying students who may not be college and career ready. Schools that look for trends such as chronic absenteeism, behavioral challenges and academic deficiencies while designing a proactive campaign to catch these kids early can get a jump start on meeting the basic needs that can lead to success in the future.

Early intervention

Many service-based community organizations exist with the purpose of providing the appropriate support for struggling students.

Johns Hopkins University Center for Social Organization of Schools suggests implementing an early warning system where students in high-poverty areas are identified as at risk and paired with organizations such as AmeriCorps, where they can provide education interventions, attendance coaching, and behavior coaching during the school day.

Not only does this connect the community with these students, but it also removes some of the responsibility from the classroom teacher. These suggestions may seem to be miles away from college and career readiness, yet these are the steps that must be taken to keep a child on track to future success.

Not an impossible mission

As a student progresses through the developmental psychological needs, the focus needs to return to a student’s pathway toward college and career readiness.

In 2011, the Kingsbury Center at Northwest Evaluation Association and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute conducted a study on high-achieving students. The study yielded several major findings about student and school performance. Among those was that the average rate of academic growth by high achievers in wealthy and poor schools were nearly equivalent. This finding dispels the myth that students cannot succeed unless they attend a wealthier, suburban school.

Although students from poverty may face additional challenges in their life that can adversely affect their education, they can still benefit from integration of college and career readiness skills in the curriculum. In fact, a greater emphasis should be placed on educating students and parents from an early age about the resources that are available to them.

Programs such as the Louisiana Tuition Opportunity Program for Students offer state tuition to any parent of a student who is a Louisiana resident and meets the academic requirements of the program. These tuition assistance options exist in most states, but the requirements often begin in the 8th grade, if not earlier.

Breaking the cycle

Students in poverty continue to increase within the public school setting. If educators do not take a proactive approach to preparing these individuals for life beyond school, the cycle of poverty will only continue for generations. Through early intervention, focus on data trends, partnerships with the community, and integration of college and career readiness skills into the curriculum, there is a greater opportunity to help pull a student out of poverty and into a career track that will benefit everyone.

Dr. Jason Perez is the head principal at Heritage Trails Elementary in Moore, Oklahoma, as well as a faculty member at Concordia University – Portland, where he teaches Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction courses, and an adjunct faculty member at the University of Central Oklahoma, where he teacher Master of Education Administration courses.

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