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December - Reflection

Posted by Michele Murphy
Michele Murphy
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on Tuesday, 03 January 2012 in Americorps

During December I gave six presentations to high school students who were visiting the campus. My first four presentations were for the Washington County College and Career fair which was held here at WSCC and included 750 tenth grade students from six high schools in the Washington County area. Most of the students were not college prep and don't see themselves as attending college, for one reason or another. For this event, I gave a presentation called "Not Sure You Can Go to College" where I talked about college roadblocks and how to navigate obstacles.

Though I was not given a great deal of notice (in fact I was asked 10 minutes before the presentation as the original speaker was a no show) I did not have a great deal of time to prepare, and decided to rely largely on my personal experience. I approached this presentation as more of a motivational talk than the standard 'you should go to college' spiel. This topic was something that really struck home with me as I very much remembered and understood what it was like to be in a position very similar to the ones these students face. I understood that going into the room and telling the students I went to Marietta College right after high school, graduated, and went on the work in admissions/advising at WSCC and teaching at National College it would sound very much as if this were an easy process for me. It was essential that I explain, I too never thought I would be able to attend college, and indeed wasn't convinced I wanted to.

The shift in the attention of my audience once I shook up their initial impression of me by telling them I had hated high school, grew up very poor, and had a father who was adamant that I not attend college, as well as additional obstacles, was almost tangible. I was honest with students. I had them list things that may prevent them from going to college. I didn't sugar coat the fact that these obstacles were present and I, unfortunately, could not wave a magic wand or give them some other profound knowledge that would make them vanish. I let them know that obstacles would be ever present in every aspect of their life. The important thing is to be aware of what they are and start thinking of ways to navigate them.

I felt these students needed to know what could potentially stand in their path, and also what could help them. I talked to them about the importance of doing well in high school by pointing out some of my own regrets, as well as telling them some general things about financing college that I wish I had know when I was in their seats. If students wanted to go to college, but didn't know if they could I helped give them realistic ways of exploring their options (talking to guidance counselors, as well as talking to me, or others at WSCC or near-by schools). If students knew they had no interest in college, I gave them some facts that show the importance of college, but I also let them know it might be a better option for them to go into the workforce first and then come back to school. If their heart is not in it and they do not intend to do the necessary work, they are only going to hurt themselves.

I was surprised by how well this presentation went and how effectively I was able to connect with and impact the students to which I spoke. Several students talked to me more after the session and I had very positive feedback from the supervising teachers who were in the room. I think this was a great opportunity for me to help students in a slightly different way than I am used to in my everyday direct service. It gave me the chance to plant a seed of hope in the minds of the students I spoke with. Though I know it will not necessarily take root immediately for all of them, I can only hope that someday a part—no matter how small—of what I said will begin to germinate in their minds and help them achieve the higher education indispensable for greater success.

 

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