David Archibald-Seiffer: Secondary education effort should involve parents, practical planning

GUEST OPINION: 'GO ON' CAMPAIGN

June 25, 2014 

Whether it's called "Go On," or "One, Two, Four or More," the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation's initiative to increase post-secondary education stands little chance of success unless parents are involved early in their children's education and families plan for college, technical, professional or vocational school costs.

Too busy adults abdicate school and career decisions to high school age sons and daughters, often with disastrous results. Teens with developing judgmental skills often make skewed choices regarding courses and careers. The results are college dropouts or students working dead-end jobs at marginal wages, losing their drive and desire to better themselves.

Few concerned citizens fully understand the problem. The difficulties begin with overworked, understaffed and sometimes non-existent career counseling and guidance departments in many schools. A single counselor can be responsible for advising as many as 1,500 students! There are also often single, annual "voluntary" meetings where information about post-high school options is presented to parents who leave unsure of how to utilize the materials.

There are high schoolers who have solid post-secondary plans, supported, encouraged, and at least partially funded by families who set up IDEAL college accounts, or other savings earmarked for education. This group is in the minority. Many of our high school seniors and their families learn about the realities of college costs upon receipt of financial aid awards, and realize that the balance is beyond their reach.

The focus of the Albertson initiative is on the kids. As I read the article in the June 15 paper, I was struck by the constant references to student-to-student, child-to-child programs. Because of the complexity in setting up such networks, even using social media, and the probable unevenness of the peer-to-peer relationships, their chance of success over the long run seems remote. More likely, mentors will drop out, students will lose interest and everyone will be far too busy with their own schooling and work for the plan to be more than marginally successful.

A coordinated, ongoing initiative is needed that begins in first grade and combines student and parent awareness of the long term benefits of post-secondary education, along with practical guidance in making that opportunity realistic and affordable. A portion of one day of every month in every grade of every school year needs to be devoted to engaging sessions, raising not just awareness in students, but also enthusiasm and desire to attain productive and rewarding adult work and the requisite education required for it.

This program needs to be paralleled by a focus on parents, with practical planning for post-secondary college costs. I would even suggest that parents be able to set up IDEAL plans on the spot, to get them started. Even the most modest contribution monthly would be a constant reminder of an educational commitment to the future. There also needs to be a system of parental approval for all courses selected, dropped, or changed by their students, particularly at the secondary school level. Many students go "teacher shopping," looking for classes or instructors from which one can get the highest grade for the least amount of work. This is counterproductive to academic challenge and post-secondary school success.

While the Albertson Foundation continues to crunch numbers and develop interactionary programs, potential solutions to Idaho's educational dilemma is much more basic. It requires committed, knowledgeable facilitators, the cooperation of educational entities and professionals at all levels, and adequate funding, which is now being spent on the completion of senior projects, an assignment which is far off the target of "Go On."

Archibald-Seiffer is a 30-year award-winning educator at the secondary and college levels. He is the originator of the Boise School District's college entrance test preparation course and provides college advising services. He has been teaching at Timberline High School for 16 years.

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