Author: Elizabeth Figueroa
On a crisp October morning, students at Horace Mann Elementary returned from their week-long break to a special treat: the kick-off for University Week! Teachers lined up their classes on the artificial turf outside the school. When the youngsters looked out across the field, they beheld a wall of SJSU Soccer players in shiny blue uniforms. The players took turns speaking to the eager kids, dispensing advice such as “take care of business in the classroom and give it your best on the field.”
For the rest of the week schools celebrated an entire week of college-themed activities. The theme for this year’s College Day prompted students to wonder: “Who do you want to be?” The week culminated in the big event: College Day itself.
A couple of miles away, SJSU’s Nu Alpha Kappa adopted Cristo Rey Jesuit High School for College Day. The key at this site was communicating the wide variety of paths the speakers took to get into college. Most Cristo Rey students are from low income, first generation immigrant families. Instead of wondering if college is an option, students are now confidently choosing universities that will best suit the needs for their futures. Ivy League? Private University? The world is their oyster. The students at Cristo Rey demonstrate just how much College Day has changed the conversation about education in San Jose within the last five years.On Friday, October 9, 2015, twenty-nine Elementary Education students from SJSU presented at Lowell Elementary School, under the guidance of professor Lorri Capizzi. The students worked on their presentations for weeks, researching topics such as financial aid, family support, choosing a major, and the social aspects of college life. Most importantly, they shared their own stories about how they got into college. Many of the SJSU students had to overcome extraordinary obstacles to enroll in college, which made their advice all the more meaningful to the children.
Just a few blocks from Cristo Rey, Former Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen spoke to the students at San Jose High School about her upbringing in a family of farmers and discussed the opportunities she was exposed to simply by being on a campus and meeting people who could help her further her goals.
On the other edge of downtown, students at Burnett Middle School received an inspiring speech from Councilmember Raul Peralez. His rousing story reached over 300 middle school students (his biggest audience so far)! Councilmember Peralez touched on being a first generation Latino college student in the math department at San Jose State University, the responsibility that came with it, and the mentor who suggested he consider the path to becoming a police officer. Great motivator to get Burnett Middle School students thinking about their futures!
Teachers across San Jose were delighted to have such support in their classrooms. “This was the best College Day ever,” enthused one teacher. “I’m so thankful that I signed up for a speaker….his presentation was a great endorsement of college.” Another teacher concurred, adding that “this is our second year participating in College Day and each year it gets better.”
The experiences proved to be just as rewarding for the speakers. “It was a meaningful opportunity for me,” said one presenter. Another presenter reported that “the feedback I got from two students was the best part… I know I can’t win them all but for me, that one child counts.” Another speaker observed “I forgot is how it can be challenging to “translate” our college lingo and make it applicable to 4th and 5th graders, but I loved it and would love to be invited back.”
It is important to remember that College Day is for all ages – all the way down to Transitional Kinder. Nearly all schools in CommUniverCity’s service area serve a population where well over 50% of the students come from disadvantaged, at-risk backgrounds. Something as simple as hearing a story about someone’s experience in college can begin to shape their ideas about the future. Will they want to be a minimum wage worker like their parents? Or will they hear the engineer who visited their class one year and connect their love of math to a future in engineering?
Will you be the mentor to inspire a future leader? If you join College Day, your chances are pretty high! Until next time, remember to celebrate college. Promote the promising futures one can have by going to college. Inspire others to be an inspiration. Change the conversation!