Arizona Education: College Career Readiness

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Getting students ready for college begins well before they enter institutions of higher education. We’ll take a look at one group helping get students ready for college, College Bound AZ. There will also be a discussion on the topic with Elizabeth Paulus, founder of College Bound AZ and Dr. Sally Downey, Superintendent of the East Valley Institute of Technology.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The city of Glendale is now defending a casino it once opposed. This after State Department of Gaming director Daniel Bergin told the Tonoho O'odham Nation that the state would not give the okay for a casino being built next to Glendale. Bergin says the tribe committed fraud by not disclosing plans to build the casino during state gaming compact negotiations 13 years ago. Glendale city attorney Michael Bailey says that the state's opposition threatens over 1,000 construction jobs, even more permanent jobs and an economic boost to the area. Two years ago, a federal judge ruled that the state gaming compact does not prohibit more casinos in the Phoenix area. That ruling has been appealed. And a contempt of court hearing starts tomorrow for Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio. At issue is whether or not Sheriff Arpaio and Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan intentionally violated orders given by U.S. district judge Murray Snow after Snow's ruling that the department had racially profiled Latinos. The sheriff and his chief deputy have admitted to civil contempt for failing to follow some of Snow's orders.

Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of Arizona Education looks at college and career readiness. We begin with producer Christina Estes and photographer Scot Olsen taking us to Mesa, where students are thinking about college long before leaving high school.

Teacher: I would like you to talk about --

Christina Estes: On a Thursday afternoon --

Teacher: Any upcoming anxieties that you have about finishing eighth grade.

Christina Estes: About 15 students gather in the library at junior high.

Student: I registered for classes.

Christina Estes: They received praise.

That will be great.

Christina Estes: And warnings.

Teacher: Try to miss less school, you're going to dig a hole if you miss that much school in high school.

Christina Estes: The words of wisdom come from volunteer mentors. The groups work with students who are underrepresented in higher education.

Deb Rodarte: We're taking these students who are all academically able to go to college and we're showing them the skills that they need. We're doing community service with them. We're keeping track of what they're registering for in high school so they are taking A.P. and we're showing them you can go to college and then when they're in high school, the program helps them get scholarships.

Christina Estes: Breanna Herrera is one of the mentees. She's already picked the career: Forensic anthropology.

Breanna Herrera: It's the study of dead -- deceased people, and I think that's really interesting, like you help find out why that person died or like it's working on a case.

Christina Estes: During college bound weekly meetings --

Teacher: Any other concerns?

Christina Estes: Speakers share lessons that apply in and outside the classroom, like how to manage time and mind your manners.

Breanna Herrera: We learn how to like sit properly and when someone else is speaking, we know not to interrupt them and like to say like, excuse me, and just to be respectful.

Deb Rodarte: They understand that it's a comforting place, it's a comfortable place to go to, they can share, they don't have to feel threatened and we have a common goal of getting them to college and we're invested in them.

Christina Estes: That investment comes with expectations. Students are required to perform community service and inspire others through their legacy project.

Teacher: It should be like a thing to read.

Christina Estes: They'll take their messages onto the school walls.

Teacher: It was going to be want to go to college, which path will you take? We added that.

Breanna Herrera: I kind of think we should change it to success because the fact that it says dream job, it kind of puts that kind of words towards me where it's talking about when you're successful, all it is is your job but it's also whatever else you succeed at like a family and stuff.

Christina Estes: In 2013, college-bound A.Z. celebrated its first college graduate. She was also the first in her family to earn a bachelors degree. The group's cofounder says more than 90% of their students enter college right after high school.

Deb Rodarte: A lot of these kids never realize that they could go to college. These kids just have a whole new avenue. They can follow now.

Ted Simons: College Bound serves students at three junior high schools and also offers a high school academy. Here now to talk more about college career readiness is Elizabeth Paulus, founder of College Bound Arzona, and Dr. Sally Downey, superintendent of the East Valley Institute of Technology. Thanks for joining us.

Both: Thank you ted.

Ted Simons: To college bound Arizona which we just saw, very interesting stuff. How did all this get started?

Elizabeth Paulus: Well, about 2009, there was a nexus of events in my life which really showed me what could be done in the community. One of them was that I was able to retire from my full-time job so I had time available. The second thing was I began working with a student that I had met through an exchange program and she was asking me for help to go to college and I learned very quickly that the skills coming out of high school don't necessarily mean that the student knows what it takes to file the proper applications and get into college and then third thing that happened in 2009 was the movie the blind side, okay. I know what's the connection there? Well, because here was an underrepresented student that was being assisted to college and all of these things were playing on my mind, the fact that that I had time, the fact that there were students, the fact that there was a vision about how to help people go to college. So I did some research and put it together and came up with a mentorship program that's been working very well.

Ted Simons: And okay, we had an example of how college bound Arizona works. How about EVIT?

Sally Downey: It creates a pathway for success for students. We feel at EVIT that every scholar needs a skill and even though two out of three of our graduates go to college, we think we can make that a larger number.

Ted Simons: When we hear college and career readiness, what does that really mean?

Sally Downey: I think it's same. I think that the careers nowadays have just as many demands as the demands are for a student to go to college. Now what we can do at evit is we can equip that student with a marketable skill so when they do enter college, they can work their way through and decides that, they found something they love so they can work in an area that they love. That's win-win.

Ted Simons: Again, looking for definitions here being fully prepared for college and career.

Elizabeth Paulus: There's a lot of -- there's a lot of crossover in what we empower students with that are both for college and for career. For example, community service is something that helps build a student's confidence and they're going to need confidence to come from low-income background and do well in college. You're going to need to do that. The sim with the career, it helps them get outside their box and explore other people that they're going to work with, other ideas that they're going to be exposed to or they might even come up with a career. In fact, I had a young girl in eighth grade through her community service, we made homeless care kits and their job was to with their parents to give those care kits out and that so moved her about seeing that individual in their conditions that she became interested in being a nurse. She'll tell you she's going to be a nurse practitioner because of that exposure she had through community service. There's some crossover.

Ted Simons: And kind of a long debate here whether or not a well-rounded education is best or a more focused. Back during vocational schools, this was always a big deal. What's that dynamic like these days?

Sally Downey: It's changed. I don't know how many people would tell me I'm really glad there's an EVIT because every student is not going to college. It's not like that anymore. The demands for a competent worker with more education, it's never been as high as it is right now. And some of the jobs that come out of the career and technical education will allow a student to go on to college and not end up with a big debt at the end of that because they're working in an area, first of all, that they love. For example, far-student learns to be a dental assistance and wants to be a dentist, what better seamless system than to work with a dentist? That's how it works and that's what they gain at EVIT.

Ted Simons: What happens, though, if someone wants to be a dentist and they work as a dental assistant and they want to become a race car driver or a mechanic. What happens? Because that happens.

Sally Downey: And life happens. Well, that's another beauty of evit. A student can learn in high school if they want to pursue a certain area in college and many times, well, it is free in high school. So they don't have to, you know, have a big debt and find out that they do want to be a race car driver.

Ted Simons: Indeed. As far as prerequisite skills for college and career. How many of those overlap? Is there much of a difference?

Elizabeth Paulus: Well, first of all, either place you go, you're going to want to have time management skills, you're going to want to be responsible, you're going to want to have manners, your social and soft skills that you're going to need to survive in college. Academically, we want to see students, you heard the word A.P. mentioned about advanced placement. What better way to prepare for college than to take a college class? Which is what A.P. stands for. So these are students who have made the commitment I'm going to college, great. Do you know what an A.P. class is? In eighth grade they don't know. They can start right away in high school and get a feel for the strength that they're going to need to build.

Ted Simons: At what point especially with junior high school kids and wouldn't younger kids do you start stepping into territory that the parents -- being able to say please and thank you is something I wouldn't expect to be taught in school. What's going on here?

Sally Downey: I'm a strong believer that public schools are symptoms of society and public schools have to do a lot more now than they ever used to do, 20, 30 years ago but this is all of us, educators teach students to say please and thank you and that's all part of it. And that's part of the training at EVIT because we want to make sure that they're job ready and career ready and the soft skills play a big part of that.

Ted Simons: In general are schools expecting enough of kids?

Sally Downey: Are you asking me that question? Because I think the higher you raise the bar and the more you expect the more you get from students. In my career of many, many years, I just think it's very important to challenge them all along the way.

Ted Simons: Is that a nice way of saying, no?

Sally Downey: Yes. [ Laughter ]

Ted Simons: Do you think that schools are expecting enough of kids?

Elizabeth Paulus: I had many children go through my -- I have seven kids. And they've all gone through the Mesa school system and I know how hard they worked. And I know what demands were placed on them so from my vantage point as a parent, I think that the school is challenging enough for the students. What we're working with the students on is those kinds of things, they come from families that are low-income. Many have not had parents that went to college and they don't know how to prepare the student to take the next steps after high school and find how to fill out the applications. It's hard to imagine but it takes a particular knowledge to be able to do the applications and timed properly. So they don't have parents that have done that. That's why we're there.

Ted Simons: As far as again, your goal and your mission statement and what you're trying to do. Are you rewarding success or identifying lack of success?

Elizabeth Paulus: I think it's rewarding success because the students that participate in our program are making a commitment. We after the in-school program, we're on a weekend program and they have to show up, because I tell them if I can't reach you, I can't teach you. So they have to show up on a Saturday. Who wants to do that? The kids that want to go to college. I think it's rewarding success.

Ted Simons: But there is identifying failure, identifying things that need improvement, that's a big factor as well, is it not?

Sally Downey: Always and being able to try something different that maybe you've never tried before. What's the definition enough sanity, if you keep doing what you've done and expect different outcomes, that's no way to go.

Elizabeth Paulus: When I embarked on the program, I did some research and I have many different presentations that I make. Just the other day there was Dan Dylan from ASU, from their marketing team, who said that those families that are in high-income homes, 97% of the kids expected to go to college will go to college. Those from low-income families, 8% go to college. We have an achievement gap that has nothing to do with aptitude but the socioeconomic status.

Ted Simons: Quickly here, the president among others, saying that the U.S. was among the best educated in the world once, and now we are being outeducated. First of all, are they right and second how do you fix it?

Sally Downey: Well, this is totally my opinion. I do not think we're being out-educated. I think there's more need to work with individual students and their individual learning styles and their needs but I think -- and sometimes, that's very hard, and it's very difficult because one size does not fit all and we try to make it fit all. We have several students with unbelievable talents that maybe sometimes, we don't give them an opportunity to explore and to show what they can do because we're too busy testing or making sure that everybody fits one mold. That was a long answer from my end.

Ted Simons: That was a good answer. But quickly, are we being outeducated? Because the prevailing spoken yes.

Elizabeth Paulus: I wouldn't want to disagree with the president but I go back to my experience as a parent. What I think is happening, a huge paradigm shift between the technology of high school and the technology of college and beyond. And that I think is what the fear is that we're a computer-based society, not all of our kids have computers oh, by the way. So I think it's the technology divide that gives that appearance of a lack of education.

Ted Simons: All right. Great conversation. Good to have you both here. Thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.


Elizabeth Paulus:Founder, College Bound AZ; Dr. Sally Downey:Superintendent, East Valley Institute of Technology;

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