Hi, I’m Caleea. I hold two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s Degree, and I hold down a stable, and fulfilling job. My health is good, I’m a homeowner, and I am a member of my local co-op.
Outcomes are compelling. By all measures of outcomes, any person who taught me in high school would say, “My goodness, she is doing so well!” This would likely be followed the oft-cited and not-so-subtly racist Minnesota thought “If she can do it, why can’t other Black people?” Or my favorite, “We sure have a GREAT education system here in Minnesota.”
Passive-aggressive non-confrontational subliminal racism aside, the part of the aforementioned thought pattern that I actually take most issue with is this focus on certain measurable outcomes.
We all LOVE measurable outcomes (myself included) because they tell us whether we have been “successful.” What gets lost in the outcomes-focused game is the process. Yes, I am grateful to be an educated person in this city and state, but the degrees behind my name tell nothing of the story of emotional violence that I’ve endured on my path to and through college. I would not say that I went to a school with a positive school-wide culture.
Nor was it a college-going culture.
We all know that education is positioned as an equalizer in our society. However, my personal experience with our country’s education system has given me the impression that it isn’t actually set up systematically to break down inequities and provide a means for social mobility. SHOCKER.
I work at a school that on the surface is all about outcomes. We expect 100% of our scholars to graduate from college. I’m used to the quick rebuttals from folks that tell me that “Not everyone should go to college.” And “Focusing on college puts too much PRESSURE on those kids who have so much to already deal with.”
What you’ll see at my school is a culture where students and adults alike are constantly talking about college and working to build skills that will get us to the realization of our mission. What you will also see is that when folks talk about college, it is not just as an outcome, but more as a proxy to measure a series of other skills and opportunities we hope for our students. There’s a sense that if we can get in to, and then through college, we can go anywhere.
We tell our rising freshmen in the winter of their 8th grade year that they will be learning about college on the first day that they come to our high school. And we keep our word. Every other day, freshmen have an Early College Seminar—a full-length class that introduces them to some key concepts about college. Every week, we have college representatives coming to our school and talking to students, and we also have campus visits almost weekly. Students choose which events they want to attend, but they all must spend at least 10-15 hours doing the work of exploring college before they go on to the next grade. We also have a capstone class, called Senior College Seminar, where every Senior has the chance to have an every-other day class period set aside for working through applications, scholarship apps, writing personal statements, navigating FAFSA and the MN Prosperity Act applications, and learning about everything from homesickness to binge drinking alongside conversations about imposter syndrome and consent.
The concrete nuts and bolts that bring our college going culture to life are beautiful. Most of that beauty lies in the way the adults frame it to students, families, and one-another.
The basic idea is this:
“To access institutions of power, such as jobs with health insurance, and paid time off, you must first know how to navigate that space. YES, you’re right, you should not have to go to college to have a stable income. YES, you’re right, you should not have to talk like white people to be able to get into college. YES. YOU. ARE. RIGHT. What I won’t do though, as an adult that is responsible for setting you up for success, is lie to you about what options you will have in our society if you are not successful at school.”
It’s disheartening to see stats of college completion rates by income quartile. Seventy-five percent (!) of people from families in the highest income quartile have a college degree. This compares to 10% of folks from families in the lowest income quartile. While I agree that not EVERYONE needs to go to college, I find it interesting that rich folks still seem to send almost all their children to and through college.
It takes very little deduction to see that college is, in fact, a huge point of leverage for making gains in social mobility.
Creating a college going culture and creating a positive school culture are not inherently two sides of the same coin. It takes a lot of strong relationships and a lot of willingness to experience discomfort to make those things true together. I’ve seen schools that have a college focus that are cut-throat competitive and emotionally vacant, and I’ve seen super warm and loving schools where 15% of students graduate high school. I am so proud of the work my students and staff are doing together. We’re getting this positive, college-going culture thing right. It’s not perfect, but I know it’s the right mindset.
Our students will get both outcomes and a loving and supportive process, because they deserve no less.
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