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At Oregon GEAR UP, we talk a lot about creating a college-going culture in schools: setting high expectations for all students and providing them with the academic preparation and other tools to meet those expectations. Changing the school culture can have a long-lasting impact on the success and positive attitudes of students, parents and staff.
At the beginning of this school year, Stanfield Secondary School (SSS) announced a new mission statement, using their school mascot to form an acrostic: To Inspire Greater Educational Rigor, Relevance and Relationships at Stanfield Seccondary School.
"We collaborated as a staff," said principal Bryan Johnson. "I wanted it to be created by the staff (teachers, administrators, and classified employees) and not a top down amendment from the principal. The old mission statement was good, but this was more relevant and staff-created."
The mission statement incorporates three of GEAR UP's five "R"s to college readiness: Rigor, Relevance and Relationships. "It really fit into what we are trying to accomplish at SSS," said Johnson. The staff also included ways in which the school is supporting each of these aims, communicating this information to students during the opening assembly and in advisory periods, as well as with parents during Open House. The mission is also prominently displayed on their website, on posters around school and in the student/parent handbook, so that all audiences are consistently reminded of the high expectations and principles that the school values.
Seniors at La Pine High School have a few extra to-do items before they can graduate this year. On that list? Completing at least one college application, one scholarship application, the FAFSA and the OSAC scholarship application. More importantly, the school is offering the time and support in class to accomplish the tasks, such as holding a College Application Week.
The administration has encouraged the changes, said counselor Cindy Jarrett. "The principal is even making a special schedule so we can do some of this in school for the seniors."
Irrigon Junior/Senior High School has a constant conversation about college. "We have a series of activities that are spread evenly throughout the year, which keeps GEAR UP and college readiness at the forefront of our thoughts," said Sarah Miller, GEAR UP Coordinator. College visits, parent information nights, transition programs for middle school students, a scholarship essay curriculum and many other activities are embedded into the yearly schedule after almost six years of GEAR UP support. "Our GEAR UP plan has, in many ways, become the way we do business with our students," Miller said. "It’s such a part of our culture that our graduation ceremony celebrates what students are doing next in their lives." The result? An ever-increasing number of students heading off to college and earning scholarships and awards.
Educators, students and communities can set the tone by creating traditions, providing visual reminders, and regularly talking about the expectation for education after high school. Our College-Going Culture toolkit will provide several easy, low-cost ways to highlight a college-going culture.