GradNation: An Enlightening Opportunity

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Last week, Seeding Success had the opportunity to participate in the GradNation summit (a part of America’s Promise) hosted by The City of Memphis’s Office of Talent and Human Capital and we talked with over 300 students from Booker T. Washington High School, East High School, Mitchell High School, and Middle College High School. The goal of the summit was to engage the students around baseline education data in Shelby County, hear their experiences and reactions to the data, listen to what obstacles they are facing, and how they are being supported (if at all) to get to school.

The format of the engagement session was a large group presentation and then smaller break out group discussion sessions facilitated by district and community leaders. The feedback that came out of the small groups was very interesting. Every one of the 14 groups was shocked at the statistics, particularly the 11% college readiness rate (click to see our most recent data byte) and the 55% post-secondary access rate (e.g. enrolling in some post-secondary opportunity after high school). They discussed why these statistics might exist, their individual experiences, and potential solutions.

After surveying 14 groups with 15-20 students in them, the theme of greater support was number one in their recommendations. Many students discussed how hard it is to come from families where they are a first generation college student, or they go to schools where one counselor is expected to advise 750 students. They also mentioned people who did offer support and what a difference those relationships made. One student mentioned his band director taking his students to see college bands perform and telling them “this is your future”, which was very inspirational to him. These experiences of specific support for the students were profound and often helped them realize that a college education was possible. Students identified band directors, coaches, teachers, and counselors as instrumental in their support system.  In addition to support, students mentioned that they wanted to begin discussing the importance of the ACT and the college application process starting in 9th grade instead of waiting until the 11th. Many of them expressed frustration in realizing too late that the ACT was critical to college entrance and they needed to begin prepping for it early. In general, several groups expressed concern about not being academically prepared for college and feared entering an environment that they knew very little about.

What can you do now to help more students access college or a post-secondary opportunity?

At Seeding Success we know it takes a system to address large community outcomes, we need all adults involved in the lives of children to be accountable for improving outcomes. Today in Tennessee it is more possible than ever for students to access a 2 year college or technical school. Students graduating this year can attend for free through a new scholarship called the TNPromise, but students must apply. As parents, teachers, principals, school district officials, non-profit leaders, businesses, and community members we can all help support our students to take advantage of this opportunity. You can make sure any senior you know has completed the application, you can become a mentor to support these students as they transition to college. Together we can improve the startling statistic that only 55% of our county’s high school graduates go on to further education.

Resoundingly, all groups agreed that it was paramount to have someone in their lives “who cared” and provided ‘specific’ support to navigate the often new and confusing path to college or career. Where that support comes from may differ for each student- parents, grandparents, older siblings, upperclassmen, pastors, teachers, or coaches- but everyone was in accord that that made all the difference. This is an important take-away for any organization that works with children and any individual interested in improving our community outcomes: our students need to be supported from start to finish. Become a TN Achieves mentor now and lend your support to help a graduating senior make it to college.