Every spring, as March Madness heats up, it’s not just basketball brackets bringing on the fever pitch of competition. In many high schools, March Madness is about college acceptances; who’s gotten them, and who hasn’t. Information about the “have’s” and the “have not’s” in the ever-increasing race to be branded a “success,” travels instantly along the hallways and social media highways.
For first generation college students, this annual “race to nowhere”, as a recent documentary termed it, often ends before it even begins unless someone outside of their nuclear family guides them through the college application process. In many public schools, overwhelming caseloads leave school counselors without the time and resources necessary to provide students with adequate career and college guidance. Administrators must rely on teachers and other staff, or specific college preparatory programs like AVID, to help prepare students for a variety of 2 and 4-year college options, and other post-high school pathways.
In this year, my seventeenth as a school counselor and third as a Career & College Counselor specifically, I saw an increased number of our first generation college students pass through the college application gauntlet. They emerged more self-confident and ready to embrace the challenges inherent in stepping out on their own.
Why so many this year? It was teamwork.
Olympia High School is in its sixth year as an AVID school. The curriculum certainly helps to prepare our students for college, but it is the close, almost familial relationship between the AVID teacher – the head coach – and students that truly accelerates our students’ academic and personal growth. I work as part of the AVID team, providing extra academic guidance, personal support and college application assistance. Sometimes, that’s all it takes – a second or third caring adult to encourage a student to strive for more, and suddenly they begin to believe they can.
Such was the case with one of our AVID seniors who I recently discovered had chosen to attend our local community college out of the fear of being rejected by a 4-year college. When I heard about her plan, I once again assured her, “You can do this”! As the AVID assistant coach, I was an additional voice of encouragement that gave her that last little push to complete the application. Two weeks later she was accepted and is now on her way to becoming a Central Washington University Wildcat!
Teachers, counselors, administrators and other adults can be the champions that every student needs to realize their dreams. Any staff member and any school can choose to prioritize meaningful student-teacher relationships. The research supports this approach as a key factor in student achievement, and these kinds of success stories can happen in any school.
Kim Reykdal is a Career & College Counselor, Lead AVID Counselor and the Senior Class Advisor at Olympia High School in Olympia, Washington.