I’m sitting down to each my lunch after a morning full of presenting and educator-focused workshops at the recent NCCPA Educator Symposium in Petaluma, when the keynote speaker, Dr. Laurie Scolari asks us all about our eating utensils. It caught my attention right away, wondering what that has to do with Career Pathways and addressing the barriers facing our nation’s youth when it comes to succeeding in school and finding meaningful, well paying jobs. Dr. Scolari says that eating without utensils, without the proper tools, is akin to the challenges that first generation students face in continuing their studies past secondary school and into post-secondary institutions. The analogy continues; the students know about college and its value in society just I like I can see my food and how it will help nourish me, but they don’t have the material or capital to access that coveted prize. They are often left hungry, knowing that they should enroll in a postsecondary program but don’t know how. The analogy is fitting, and I get the point.
Dr. Scolari’s presentation and passion resonates deeply with me, as I have spent the past five years working to make strong academic bridges and programs to serve underrepresented students in STEM. And now as part of Marin County’s Pathway team I get to take that work further, building bridges all the way to industry and incorporating the revitalized value of work based learning. Dr. Scolari goes on to talk about the very important topic of Social Capital. Her breakdown of this complex topic and the role different types of social capital play in the post-secondary matriculation process is brilliant. I think most of us have heard of social capital but what I hadn’t heard before is how first generation do have types of social capital, but not the kinds that privileged students do and more importantly not the kinds that help get into college. Dr. Scolari explains that first generation students are those whose parents/guardians at home have not gone to college themselves and thus don’t provide the knowledge and skills necessary to help these students transition out of secondary school. Because of this lack of the right kind of capital, these students need to more heavily rely on the resources and support that are provided in school. But there is stiff competition to get a counselor’s attention; there are far too few counselors for the number of students we have in our schools, around a 3000 to 1 ratio of students to counselors nationally. When she says this, I say “What?!” out loud. Oops. That ratio is staggering and I had no idea the problem was that big.
I leave lunch and Dr. Scolari’s presentation shocked but full. That afternoon, during the symposium, we gather in industry teams based on identified CTE sectors. Teams are comprised of teachers, administrators, coaches, counselors and work-based learning specialists. It strikes me just how important this kind of collaboration is. If counselors are overworked, as are teachers and everyone else in education, yet we have major gaps where the students with the most need are not getting the attention they deserve, the only way to increase our capacity is to collaborate. Collaborate more and communicate to make our individual roles and responsibilities work together to increase our Capital. By our Capital, I mean our collective capacity to help students get into postsecondary programs and find success. Of course we could do with more money, resources, etc., but those issues don’t necessarily focus on optimizing our current efforts. That is one of my major takeaways from the symposium and this work: it’s about working together to make sure we are addressing these real and troubling issues facing students in our schools and districts.
I’m grateful that I was able to contribute in part to this event and hope those that attended my workshop on the Next Generation Science Standards got as much out of it as I did from Dr. Scolari’s presentation and collaborating with others across the Northern California region in what was truly an educator symposium.
Marin County Office of Ed.