Discussion about how to educate America’s children is heard everywhere, from the aspiring Presidential candidates, to the local media as San Diego Unified faces yet another change in leadership. A recent PPCI study predicts that by 2025, California will lack the college-educated work force necessary for a healthy economy, and that California’s educational system needs to work to ensure that students obtain a college education. Yet with a high drop out rate, chronic under-enrollment of students in college track classes and counselors with caseloads of upwards of 400 students, we don’t seem to be in a position to ensure that college is accessible to all students in San Diego or in California.
With an increasing number of first generation college students enrolled in California schools, the approach to preparing students for higher education must take into consideration the needs of this population. As the director of a small college access program focusing on that population, I know firsthand about the challenges of preparing kids for college. While I don’t purport to be able to solve the educational crisis at a larger level, I do know what works at BLCI for the first generation students we serve.
Early and sustained academic support for students and families is imperative, and college must be the expectation. The average BLCI student will surpass their parents’ educational level in middle school, but even elementary school students lack the support to complete their homework due to language barriers. Community based interventions that complement efforts at the school sites create the proverbial village that it takes to raise our community’s children.
College planning needs to be taught to all students beginning in elementary school. We have been amazed over the years at the number of families who have already ruled college out due to misconceptions about the cost alone.
Interventions are most effective when a family based approach is in place. When parents can’t effectively advocate for their children, students frequently fall through the cracks. The end result is that capable students often graduate ineligible for college admissions. Parents of first generation college students typically lack the information necessary to prepare their students for future academic success; the combination of parental education and community based support alleviates the burden from school counselors and teachers.
Students need to be part of a culture of success. Highlighting the achievements of students and of positive role models in underserved communities lets students know that attaining an education is possible. Finally, the availability of educationally focused after-school activities that incorporate the above suggestions as well as provide students a safe place where they are surrounded by peers with a similar, positive outlook for the future is probably the most important “prevention” measure that one could take. At Barrio Logan College Institute we believe in collaboration between the K-12 system and the community to make the goal of college for all students possible. It certainly did for BLCI graduates, 100 percent of whom have succeeded in being the first in their family to graduate from high school and enroll in a 2 or 4 year college. We look forward to joining the conversation.
— DIANA GETRICH VILLEGAS