School Bells

I overheard a mother and daughter discussing college arrangements in a department store the other day. They were talking endlessly about which bathroom towels the daughter would get for her college dorm room. I only caught snippets of the conversation, but I hope the teen’s preparations for college went beyond bathroom color schemes.

When it comes to your teen’s future, you can’t underestimate the need for preparation and planning. Decisions, even those that seem insignificant, can have a major influence on your teen’s life. A recent report — “Ready for What? Preparing Students for College, Careers, and Life After High School” from the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center — emphasizes this fact.

The report explores what it means to ensure that high school graduates are prepared for life after the 12th-grade, be it college or the workforce. It found that many people are confused about what it means to be “fully prepared.” Does being “fully prepared” mean being “college ready”, “work ready” or both?

That question has been debated among educators for some time. Some educators believe “fully prepared” means graduating high school with the skills necessary for success in college. Other educators emphasize the fact that not all teenagers can afford college and must go to work after high school, so it’s important they have the skills necessary to find a job. But are “college ready” and “work ready” much different today?

It might have been years ago, but most employers today are looking for high skills whether or not a job requires a four-year college degree. ACT’s own research – “Ready for College and Ready for Work: Same or Different?” – found that high school students who plan to enter workforce training programs after they graduate need academic skills similar to those needed by students planning to enter college. The findings suggest that the math and reading skills needed to be ready for success in workforce training programs are comparable to those needed for success in the first year of college.

It can be difficult for parents and teens to determine what plans they should make to ensure that a student is ready to succeed, no matter what path he or she chooses after high school. While there are no guarantees, there are steps teens can take to make sure that the journey is smoother.

ACT recommends that all high school students should experience a common academic program, one that prepares them for both college and workforce training, regardless of their post-graduation plans. The recommendations are at least four years of English, three years each of math (Algebra I, geometry and Algebra II), social sciences (courses such as U.S. history, world history and American government) and natural sciences (biology, chemistry and physics). Taking courses beyond the recommended core classes will give students the best chance to be ready to enter college without needing remedial classes.

Gaining work experience also is a smart idea. According to “Ready for What? Preparing Students for College, Careers, and Life After High School,” employers also see a lack of “soft” or “applied” skills among high school graduates. For example, those in the workforce need to be able to work comfortably with people from other cultures, be able to solve problems, write and speak well, and evaluate information critically in addition to being dependable, punctual, and industrious. Students who work part-time or participate in an internship program learn these skills and become better-prepared for the working world.

School Bells

Words of wisdom can come from unlikely places–sometimes “out of the mouths of babes.” Making the rounds on the Internet is the following story I thought you might enjoy.

A first-grade teacher had 25 6-year-old students in her classroom. She presented each of these children with the first half of a well-known proverb and asked them to come up with the rest of the saying. Their insight might surprise you. Listed below are some of the answers these 6-year-olds gave.

Don’t change horses … until they stop running.

Strike while the … bug is close.

It’s always darkest before … Daylight Savings Time.

Never underestimate the power of … termites.

You can lead a horse to water, but … how?

Don’t bite the hand that … looks dirty.

No news is … impossible.

A miss is as good as a … Mr.

You can’t teach an old dog new … math.

If you lie down with the dogs, you’ll … stink in the morning.

Love all, trust … me.

The pen is mightier than the … pigs.

An idle mind is … the best way to relax.

Where there’s smoke, there’s … pollution.

Happy the bride … who gets all the presents.

A penny saved is … not much.

Two’s company, three’s … the Musketeers.

Don’t put off till tomorrow what … you put on to go to bed.

Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and … you have to blow your nose.

There are none so blind as … Stevie Wonder.

Children should be seen and not … spanked or grounded.

If at first you don’t succeed … get new batteries.

You get out of something only what you … see in the picture on the box.

When the blind lead the blind … get out of the way.

For those of us who might be shaking our heads, education researcher, Haim Ginott noted the irony of this. He said, “Parents often talk about the younger generation as if they didn’t have anything to do with it.”

I may have jumped “out of the frying pan and into the fire” with this, but I believe “laughter is the best medicine,” and from children we get a wonderful combination of both wisdom and laughter.

I, for one, am going to remember one more of these children’s sayings, “A bird in hand is … safer than one overhead.”

Connie Myer is director of the professional education department at Wheeling Jesuit University. She can be reached by e-mail, robinsonmyer@yahoo.com.

School Bells

A free public education for all citizens, no matter what their financial, social or intellectual status, ranks as one of the hallmarks of our political system. Unlike most nations, the United States attempts to educate its entire citizenry under the assumption that an educated and informed public results in a stronger democracy.

It’s a notion that most of us buy into. Yet many of us seem to forget that public education is funded by the public — that means all of us, or at least those of us who pay taxes. Even individuals whose children or grandchildren do not attend school pay taxes to educate the children who do.

On Dec. 14, the citizens of Marshall County get to decide whether or not they want to continue supporting the education and extracurricular activities of the county’s school-age children. In a special levy election, voters will be asked to renew for another five years the levy that has been in effect since 1959. This renewal is not an additional tax, just the continuation of the existing one.

Why support public education?

Studies demonstrate the benefits of an educated populace. Lack of education correlates with criminal activity and incarceration, and rates of incarceration are lowest in areas with low dropout rates. One year of prison per individual costs far more than one year of schooling.

Public education has also leveled the playing field for males and females and for individuals of all races and social classes. Until the middle of the 19th century, education was available only to wealthy people. Only wealthy people could learn to read and write, and to study to become doctors or lawyers or business executives.

Reformers such as Horace Mann wanted all children to gain the benefits of education. They believed that education would be a national unifying force in creating good citizens, preventing crime and reducing poverty. Earlier, Thomas Jefferson had also argued for free education. Jefferson advocated an educational system that would be free from religious control and available to all people, regardless of social status. His ideas and the ideas of Mann and later reformers led to the public school systems of the 19th century.

Since their inception, public schools have had to rely heavily on local property taxes to cover expenses and operations. State and federal government contribute funding as well, but recently, schools across the nation have scrambled to pay for federal and state programs that are mandated, but not funded.

Local school districts need local levies to survive. In Marshall County, for example, the existing levy accounts for 24 percent of the total school budget. This local tax money supports many programs and services for students, including library services and health services. It funds support for local 4-H and sports programs. It pays for instructional equipment, building and equipment maintenance and repair, and extensive services for students with special needs.

Without such local public support, students would be forced to buy textbooks and other supplies now provided. They would lose their cutting-edge technology and programs. They would pay to participate in sports, and they wouldn’t have the services of athletic trainers. Field trips would essentially disappear.

The levy also funds the salary supplements and employee benefits that enable the district to attract talented and well-qualified staff. Marshall County staff, students and schools have received 19 awards for Schools of Excellence, Exemplary Schools, and state and national Blue Ribbon Schools.

Since 1959, Marshall County voters overwhelmingly have supported the school levy. But in recent years, special interest groups have become more vocal in opposition.

Owners of extensive rental properties seem to protest the loudest. But sometimes, interest in the collective public good must supersede individual business and financial interests.

Ultimately, a well- educated citizenry contributes to the nation’s well-being and economy.

With the support of local taxpayers that they’ve enjoyed in the past, Marshall County students are among the state’s best-prepared for the world of today.

As State Superintendent Dr. Steven L. Paine noted at this year’s opening session, Marshall County leads the state in providing students with 21st c entury technology for 21st century learning. But without the funds provided by the levy, that would not be the case.

Keep that in mind when you go to vote on Dec. 14.

Linda Shalaway, a teacher at Cameron High School in Marshall County, is author of “Learning to Teach — Not Just for Beginners” (Scholastic, 2005).