College and Career Readiness in the Elementary School Setting

College & Career Readiness in Elementary School

Working in the elementary school setting, teachers are focused on teaching students those basic skills that build a solid foundation for the rest of their educational career.  Discussions about college and a professional career come up randomly, but this is not usually the focus of educators working with 6-year-old kids.

Still, the world around us continues to change, and teachers need to help students and parents prepare for life beyond the structures of school.  What are educators at the primary level doing to help students become college and career ready?

What is college and career readiness?

District Heights Elementary School in Maryland recognizes the importance of college and career readiness. A “college-ready” student is defined as an academically prepared student who is ready for postsecondary education without the need for remedial coursework.

However, District Heights also recognizes that not all students will choose the college route, so teachers, administrators and counselors begin informing parents about career readiness. A “career-ready” student is defined as someone who possesses both the necessary knowledge and technical skills needed for employment in their desired career field.

Why does this information matter to elementary school teachers? In order to create an environment where students and families are college and career ready, there needs to be a foundational definition of what this means and looks like for students.

Role of the teacher

As educators, we provide the first influence for helping students and parents recognize the importance of emphasizing college and career readiness at an early age. Classroom teachers are not counselors and may have difficulty figuring out where they need to begin.

The National Office for School Counselor Advocacy has identified eight components of college and career readiness, yet only six of these components should be applied to the elementary setting:

  • College Aspiration: Nurture confidence in students to aspire to college by maintaining high expectations and conveying the conviction that all students can succeed in college.
  • Academic Planning for College and Career Readiness: Encourage students to participate in rigorous academic programs by increasing rigor within your own classroom. Help students realize they are capable of achieving greater academic goals than they set for themselves.
  • Enrichment and Extracurricular Engagement: Push the administration to conduct a school and community audit of enrichment and extracurricular activities that offer participation and leadership options to all students.
  • College and Career Exploration and Selection Process: Promote a college-going culture where students are encouraged to aim high. They should also begin writing processes that help them develop college application skills such as writing personal statements.
  • College and Career Assessment: When students complete a benchmark test, take the time to share the results with them. Help students become more self-aware of their achievement and take a personal interest in their growth.
  • College Affordability Planning: Begin financial literacy at an early age. Integrate lessons about basic finance, wealth and money management into math curriculum.

Teachers working together for readiness

As with any program implementation, vertical collaboration is key. The more consistency and follow-through that occurs from one grade level to the next will only enhance and ensure the success of the program. The same goes with college and career readiness.  Steppingstones help students become prepared for their future.

The Arizona State Department of Education has created a checklist for college and career readiness broken down by grade level from kindergarten through 12th grade. These checklists are designed for students to monitor their own readiness and help them plan for success at each grade level. This type of resource can be invaluable for families seeking guidance for helping their child become a strong candidate for future career opportunities.

Role of the parent

A child may think a career track only includes becoming a doctor, teacher, police officer or astronaut. It’s not unusual for younger children to have very basic or vague career goals. These are usually based on gender stereotypes, expectations set by parents or by exposure to careers held by parents or role models.

Career awareness activities can make a significant impact on assisting students to recognize a career path in an area they have yet to explore. The Georgia Department of Education has compiled an elementary and middle school guidance and tracking document that emphasizes specific career areas at different grade levels. These include activities and photos to assist teachers who are including college and career readiness in their classrooms.

Obviously, without parental support there can only be minimal success when it comes to helping an elementary-age student become college and career ready. The goal is not to have a child feel overwhelmed with making a career choice at the ripe age of 9. Rather, a parent can be a strong advocate for career planning through activities that support career-related development.

As teachers, there is a significant opportunity to share suggestions that can help parents and students, including limiting TV or screen time (including computers and phones), having parents help their child identify his/her own interests, and having parents speak positively to their children about dreams of the future.

Parents of older elementary students may want to encourage good work habits at home, participate in school career-related activities, and be aware not to assign chores based on gender stereotypes. Many parents will have a strong foundation for college and career readiness, but others will need extra support.

As educators, we can play a supportive role in helping families identify and overcome challenges and barriers that can prevent their children from achieving their own personal career goals.

Make college and career readiness a reality

College and career readiness is neither an area strictly for high school students nor is it a focus for college-bound individuals. As elementary teachers, there is a huge opportunity to help children and parents become more aware of what can be accomplished at an early age to help a child become prepared for the real world. Those who sit in classrooms today are the leaders for tomorrow. It is in everyone’s best interest to help our leaders recognize their potential as early as possible.

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 teaches Master of Education Administration courses.

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