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Students In New Haven School Program Start Preparing For College In Kindergarten (UPDATED)

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COLLEGE PREPARED
Clarence Rogers Pre-K students get a college pitch. | Melissa Bailey/New Haven Independent

This piece comes to us courtesy of New Haven Independent.

UPDATED: 9/26/2011 at 3:27 p.m. EST.

You. Will. Go. To. College.

Got it, pre-kindergartener? That message is about to become part of your curriculum in New Haven—and part of classroom time every month, every year, through 12th grade.

Officials unveiled that ambitious plan Monday at a press conference in the Hill Regional Career High School auditorium.

They announced that they’ve hired an outside outfit that has drawn up a curriculum for pre-K through 12 grades for teachers to drill the idea into all kids that they’re headed for college.

The plan is called “Pathway to Promise.” The mission is building a “college-going culture.”

It’s the newest part of New Haven Promise, which will offer up to a free ride to in-state colleges for New Haven public school kids who keep up good behavior and grades. The program, backed by Yale and the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, issued 110 partial scholarships last year. “Promise” is a central component of New Haven’s ambitious school-reform drive.

“Pathway” has two parts: the new pre-K-12 curriculum; and a “peer leader” effort in high schools to shepherd students through the last phase of getting into college.

The “Pathway” piece addresses one criticism leveled at “Promise,” Mayor John DeStefano said at Monday’s announcement.

Some have suggested that “Promise” scholarships will go to higher-achieving kids who would have already qualified for other college scholarships if necessary. “Pathway” aims at working with students, families, and teachers from the moment kids walk into school for the first time to focus on setting goals and learning the ropes to attend college—so “Promise can be for everybody,” as DeStefano put it.

“Scholarships,” said Superintendent of Schools Reggie Mayo, “are not enough.”

The Promise program enlisted a not-for-profit company called College Summit to develop the new curriculum.

College Summit has already been working with the city on school reform, focusing on how to involve families through creation of a door-to-door neighborhood “College Corps” campaign.

The new “Pathways” effort involves handing teachers at every grade level ideas for how to spend six hours a month distilling the college message in their classrooms. Teachers will have leeway to decide how to break up those hours over the course of the month, Mayo said.

College Summit CEO J. B. Schramm was asked Monday how those lessons will take shape at the earliest age, pre-kindergarten. Press on the play arrow at the top of the story to watch his response.

He said teachers at that level will start by urging children to think of life career goals—like becoming a fireman, say, or president of the United States. Then the teachers will try to connect those goals to five “core” concepts of how to succeed, and eventually tie all that to attending college after high school.

“You don’t start planning for the future in the future,” Superintendent Mayo said. “You start planning today.”

Kids got a glimpse of the program at a citywide College Day held in schools last May. Now they’ll be doing monthly activities that aim to build college-going ambitions at all ages.

At the same time, the district is expanding the number of high schools that run the “peer leader” programs, where seniors are tapped to help other students get on track for college. Three more high schools—Hill Regional Career High School, New Haven Academy and Hyde Leadership Academy—have been chosen to be the next to implement the program, according to Emily Byrne, director of the college-scholarship program New Haven Promise.

The program first launched three years ago as a pilot at Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, where seniors like Marc Lewis spread the college-going gospel to their peers. Metropolitan Business Academy and Hillhouse High spent the last year planning and are rolling out the program this fall. The rest of the city’s 10 high schools will adopt College Summit programs over the next four years, Byrne said.

Monday’s news means New Haven is on its way to become the first in the state and “one of the first in the nation” to adopt a “comprehensive pre-K to 12th grade college-going curriculum,” Byrne said. The idea is borrowed from charter schools like Amistad Academy, where college pennants mark the names of homerooms.

New Haven’s pre-K to 12 program is being paid for by private donations, including $2 million from Yale-New Haven Hospital and $300,000 from Wells Fargo Bank. The money supports College Summit’s contract with the school district, which was $290,000 in the first year and up to $650,000 in future years.

Byrne said the pre-K to 8 curriculum took shape over the past eight months. A committee of teachers, guidance counselors, principals, assistant principals and central office staff joined Byrne and College Summit to work out the details. They came up with a series of “goals, key milestones and monthly curricular activities that teachers will be implementing on a classroom-by-classroom basis.”

The result is a program “that you could literally lift to any other district in the nation,” Byrne said. She said College Summit, which previously ran college-going programs only in high schools, plans to shop the curriculum around to the school districts it contracts with in 10 states.

'I THINK I CAN. I THINK...'

“We want teachers to be talking about college early and often,” Byrne said.

Byrne said each of the city’s middle schools has selected a teacher or administrator to take the lead on the college-going campaign. As part of the program, those teachers get trained together, then fan out to their schools to spread what they learned.

Students in every pre-K to 8th-grade classroom will start a college-going journal this month, in which they will keep notes on a series of college-themed activities over the year.

The plan focuses on five “core understandings”: financial awareness, self-advocacy, college 101, academic excellence and the college-to-career connection. The activities are broken down for three groups: pre-K to 3rd grade, 4th to 5th, and 6th to 8th, Byrne said.

For example, to learn about goal-setting, the curriculum suggests kids read “The Little Engine That Could” by Watty Piper. Teachers then ask students to repeat, “I think I can, I think I can,” then set a goal for themselves.

Older students will identify a career they’re interested in, and figure out what courses they’ll need to take in high school to make that happen.

The plan also calls for teachers to arrange a visit to college campuses for even the pre-K to 3rd grade group.

Promise spokeswoman Betsy Yagla said that won’t happen in every school, but if a teacher feels it is important he or she can make it happen. The activities are meant to be cost-neutral suggestions, she said. If a teacher has a better idea that meets the same objective, he or she can do that activity instead.

Perhaps a more likely activity is for kids to take virtual tours of colleges through the Web. That’s suggested for pre-K to 3rd grade. The eldest kids will be thumbing through college course guides, according to the plan.

Byrne said teachers don’t have to do all the activities laid out in the curriculum. “It’s meant to be a guide,” she said.

The curriculum aims to give kids “consistent messaging” on college-going, which will “provide a sound structure for building an aspiration toward college-going in all of our public school students.”

College Summit forbade the Independent from publishing the curriculum because it is copyrighted.

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