Thursday, June 11, 2009

Building a Culture Aimed at College

Urban high schools take on a complex mission.

By Catherine Gewertz | Ed Week
June 11, 2009


Mavis Jackson is trolling the polished hallway floors in her sensible shoes. As the college counselor at a small, high-poverty high school, she has much to do if she is going to get all these students into college. So she milks every moment.

“Are you registered for the SAT?” Jackson calls out to one young man between class periods, pointing at him for emphasis. “You need to sign up for the college tours,” she tells a young woman in a classroom down the hall.

As the national drumbeat for college readiness grows louder, policymakers and scholars trumpet the potent role that a school’s “college-going culture” can play in leading more students to choose postsecondary education. But it’s places like this hard-luck corner of urban America that have miles to go if all students are to have a shot at further learning after high school.

Here’s what the work of building a college-going culture looks like on the ground: It’s Jackson “talking college” with freshmen practically the minute they arrive here at Baltimore’s Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy. “It’s about putting the fire in their bellies, the idea in their heads,” she says.

It’s a guidance counselor helping to make sure students sign up for the SAT, and advisory teachers supporting the college-planning process in their classes. It’s the school registrar making sure all i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed as seniors’ transcripts go to colleges. It’s a principal who drives the college vision around the clock. It’s letters of college acceptance pasted up in the hallways, teachers wearing T-shirts from their alma maters, students overhearing snippets of classmates’ college plans as the class bell rings.

Read on

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