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From the February 2014 SSDA newsletter:

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College and Career Preparation

By Joseph Booth, Career & College Clubs

Career & College Clubs, our effort to prepare middle  grade students to succeed in high school, college, and life, is nearing the end of its sixth year. Over that time, the program has evolved from a few random activities to a two year, common core-aligned curriculum focused on college and career preparation, 21st Century Skills, community engagement, and personal financial literacy.

We’ve learned a lot through our work with hundreds of California schools (and thousands of students). Trying to reduce those lessons into a few lines is a challenge, but the following three have particularly meaning for us, and are hopefully relevant for your college and career preparation activities.

  • Students aren’t everything; they’re the only thing. Apologies to former UCLA coach Red Sanders for “adapting” his famous saying, but this mentality perfectly captures the concept. We’ve found that the more we trust middle grade students, the more they exceed our expectations. This is why we focus Career & College Clubs on peer-to-peer student learning that empowers students to master the material themselves, teach it to others in their club, and then pay it forward to students throughout the school.
  • Preparation beyond academics is very important. Academic achievement is, to be sure, the biggest predictor of postsecondary success. Often overlooked, however, are non-academic factors (including aspiration, enthusiasm, and a sense of belonging) that also contribute to postsecondary success. No amount of academic preparation will help the student who can’t picture him or herself as a successful college student. For us, this means making sure Career & College Clubs removes the elitist veil that often shrouds college and convincing students (especially first generation students) that postsecondary success can be in their futures. 
  • Each school, and school district, is unique. Personnel, budget, and the surrounding community all contribute to each school’s unique character. One size definitely does not fit all. Understanding this, we molded Career & College Clubs so it can be easily implemented in any school environment, under a myriad of budget scenarios. The key is to approach each situation focused on the ultimate goal – student success – and adopt a problem solving mentality on how to achieve it.

I wish there were an oracle we could consult that said, “There’s the answer! Just do it this way and every student will reach their full potential.” In the absence of such a resource, we’re left to do our best, learn from our successes and failures, modify, and repeat.

The lessons learned above were gleaned from hundreds of iterations of this process and serve as guiding principles for our work. We’re pleased to share them, and more, with you. Stop by our exhibit (#620) at the SSDA Annual Conference to discuss your district’s college and career preparation activities.

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