Maybe you hang college pennants up in your classroom, or drop casual reminders that your students need good math grades to go to college and get a good job. But how much are your young students really grasping the idea of going to college?
It’s never too early to encourage kids to pursue higher education, but for most of them, college exists in the mysterious and distant future – too physically and conceptually far away to truly understand. As I’ve worked to build a strong college culture in my 4th grade classroom though, I’ve found that a funny thing happens when you make college more real for your kids.
They get really, really excited.
The more we remind them that a great education can take them anywhere, the more they start to believe it and take their future into their own hands. So, here are my tips to help make your kids super enthusiastic about going to college. (Just don’t blame me when they won’t stop asking questions about dorms and sports and majors.)
1. Take your students on a college visit.
Chances are, a local college is just a short bus ride away from your school. Showing your students around an actual campus makes college so much more real, and helps them see daily life firsthand.
Contact your local university’s tour office to get more information, or just do your own research before heading out. We also reached out to student organizations, and over 30 students from different groups volunteered to show us around. While it takes a bit of logistical work, it’s well worth it. Over 100 students came on our first trip, and it’s a great opportunity for students to be amazed at what was down a couple streets. We also organized for them all to get university lanyards, and they still wear them to class all the time!
2. Invite student organizations to volunteer in your classroom.
I was lucky enough to have a sorority reach out and ask to “adopt” my classroom, and they have been an excellent resource for the students. Once a week, four or five girls come in and help out in any way possible, or just stay after school and talk to students about college. They talk about what their week was like, and what classes and activities they’re involved with, and their presence has been very beneficial for the students. For Thanksgiving and Christmas, they even brought food baskets and gifts.
If there’s a group that’s willing to spend time in our classroom and bond with our students, I guarantee there are groups in your area as well, just waiting for the opportunity. It never hurts to send out a few emails.
3. Have a Career Day.
For our Career Day, each student dressed up and gave a presentation on what they wanted to be when they grew up and how they could get there. It got them thinking about setting specific goals and gave them perspective on how college plays into their road to a rewarding career.
We invited their parents and grandparents as well, and had a picnic outside. Parents looked on with pride as their kids donned little lab coats, toy stethoscopes or even soccer jerseys. Knowing that their parents were there to support them in their choice was extremely encouraging for the kids.
4. Invite professionals to speak in class.
Leverage any and all connections you have to invite people with different jobs to speak in class. We’ve had a music teacher give a music lesson, an artist talk about Picasso and her day-to-day work, and a doctor tell stories about helping people who are sick.
Even if it’s just your friends, getting a variety of people to talk about their work expands your students’ views of how many different jobs are out there, and how their learning can translate into an interesting career.
5. Be real with your students.
Their education will take them far if they work hard, no matter where they decide to go. They’re not oblivious to how money plays into their family and community life, and they can understand that a good job means they can provide a good life for their family. Money isn’t everything, but they do need it if they want to eventually help provide for their own families or even see their favorite professional soccer team play or take a vacation.
Remind them that when their teachers and parents are pushing them to work hard, it’s because we want great things for them in the future.
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Esther Lin is a 4th grade math teacher at Rocketship Mosaic Elementary. She attended the University of Southern California, where she studied Violin Performance. In her third year at Rocketship Mosaic, she enjoys teaching her students about Trojan traditions. She lives in San Jose, but can often be found in the Santa Cruz Mountains on the weekends. Fight on!