Education reform requires more than just improving math and English test scores or incorporating new teaching strategies into the classroom.
Focusing on academic achievement alone will not be enough to address some of the most important aspects of the opportunity gap in our state and in the community. Across the United States, students from lower-income backgrounds attend college at lower rates than their more affluent peers. In Colorado Springs only 43 percent of students who are from a low-income background attend a postsecondary option. Only 29 percent of students from the Southeast area of Colorado Springs enroll in a four-year option after graduation.
Lack of college access for students has become a national conversation for professional college admission counselors with strong calls for reform and change. Recently, the National Association for College Admission Counseling formed a high-level commission to address redesigning college admission and financial aid through a racial equity lens. Certainly, the work of this committee will be important, but it is unlikely to have significant impact on students in the zip codes 80910 and 80916 as “the process” is not necessarily the primary barrier because the vast majority of students who do go to college are striving to attend colleges that admit greater than 50 percent of their applicants.
At Peak Education, our response to creating more equity is to draw upon best practices to facilitate student growth and potential through a unique combination of social-emotional learning programming, leadership development, service- learning opportunities and intensive college and scholarship counseling. The secret to our success is the deep mentoring relationships that we build with our students. We provide our students with access to a talented team of educators and community members who provide additional support. We address the whole person and have seen that this leads to even greater academic and personal achievement in the long term.
Peak Education scholars do not focus on what they can accomplish, rather they strive to understand how they can contribute and make a positive impact. They do this through participation in service Saturdays and the Impact Service Project.
Our students also give back monetarily. Last year, nearly 350 Peak Education Scholars and their siblings made contributions to Peak Education through the Indy Give! Campaign. The money is certainly helpful to Peak Education’s mission, but even more importantly — our students are learning at an early age to give back to their community financially.
Finally, returning to the opportunity gap in postsecondary trajectories. Admission literacy, or understanding the college and scholarship admission landscape, is an educational process. Like learning reading or math, admission literacy can be taught and students can use the knowledge to navigate the admission application process. This is scalable. There are simple measures like adding a common data tracking and college research software, providing training and coaching to counselors and providing one-stop hubs in our schools to assist with the college admission and financial aid/scholarship process. When the Denver Scholarship Foundation added these hubs and systems to Denver Public Schools the number of students pursuing college after high school increased by 30 percent. We believe similar numbers could be achieved in schools in Colorado Springs.
Educating students requires us to prepare them to be strong members of their community and to confront life’s challenges. Learn more about Peak Education at www.peakedu.org or our social enterprise, Basecamp College Counseling which provides educational consulting, college and scholarship counseling services for middle to upper income families at: basecampcollegecounseling.org
Carlos Jiménez is the CEO of Peak Education.