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MSU? U of M? Elementary Students Consider College Opportunities


Mondays at Pine Island Elementary School have students thinking about becoming doctors, teachers, lawyers, politicians and FBI agents.

How to get there?

“You have to pass college to get a great job,” said fourth-grader Ayanna Villano, who wants to go to Grand Valley State University to become a teacher. “It takes hard work to do what you want.”

Spartans, Wolverines, Chippewa or Broncos… whichever college mascots students root for at the second- through fifth-grade elementary school, teachers want them to dream big and chase their academic goals to college.

“We really want to broaden their horizons and make sure the doors are open at this point,” said Principal Stacy Reehl, who has designated each Monday as College Monday.

The school’s 25 staff members come clad in gear either promoting their own alma maters, schools they wish they had attended or where their children are enrolled.

College Mondays was created after Reehl and her staff discussed college and career readiness and thinking about outcomes, where students want their education to lead them.

“We said, ‘How cool would it be if kids started relating to college other than sports teams?'” said Reehl, dressed in a GVSU Lakers T-shirt. Reehl got her master’s degrees in education leadership and early childhood special education there.

Fourth-grader Ayanna Villano wants to become a teacher
Fourth-grader Ayanna Villano wants to become a teacher

Along with wearing college gear to spark conversations, teachers also look at data from students’ Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) tests, taken three times a year. Even in third grade, MAP test scores can predict SAT scores if students stay on track, or they show the long-term need for improvement.

About 61 percent of students at the school are economically disadvantaged, and background is a strong predictor of academic outcomes.

“Some of our kids, we want to open their eyes and say, ‘You can do it. You can get scholarships,’ just to give them that potential,” Reehl said.

Fourth-grade teacher Mary Kelley recently wore a Michigan State University T-shirt with a Central Michigan University sweatshirt on top. She wants her students to think of college as an inevitable part of their futures.

“It’s just expected it’s going to be a sure thing,” she said. “They shouldn’t think about whether they are going or not, just where they are going to go.”

For youngster Kelly Martinez, going to GVSU and becoming a doctor is in her plans. “You have to really work hard,” she said.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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