I went to a small high school in a really small town. The kind of town with only one traffic light. It blinked yellow, as if there wasn’t enough traffic to warrant a red. “They’ll close the zoo if the duck dies.”
At the beginning of my senior year, I was called to the school counselor’s office because I had indicated on a survey I was going to college. I expected to get a big cheer from the counselor—a pep talk and a list of steps to take in the coming months. I was in the top 10% of my class, enrolled in all the high school courses colleges required, active in school activities, involved in every school play, first chair flute, and a voracious reader.
Instead, he sat at his desk and gave me a sweet but patronizing smile.
“Now, Julianne, are you sure this is the right choice for you? You know, very few girls make it through college.” After a few beats, he asked me if I had a backup plan. Silently, I shook my head. I didn’t. I couldn’t tell you one thing he said after that, but I know the meeting was short.
My mind whirled. Did he know something I didn’t? Why was I not college material? The message I was getting at home was different—I was never asked if I was going to college, but where. I had never once entertained the idea of not going. He made me second-guess my goals, but only for a moment.
Thank goodness I didn’t second-guess for long, as there was a lot to do and no Internet to help.
Supporting my own children through his process recently reminded me of that meeting and how different things are for high school students today. Our kids are surrounded by educational professionals willing to guide and support them, with so much information available it can be overwhelming.
Thirty years ago, there was no Google, and everything was done by mail with paper, envelopes, and stamps. And that was only if you were interested in the school. Can you imagine?
There were no apps or websites for ACT or SAT preparation. We actually had to get practice tests from big, heavy books and then go back and score them on our own and find our own mistakes.
College applications weren’t filled out using online forms; we had to type them. Using a typewriter.
If you weren’t prepared for college, there were no remedial courses to assist you. Intervention energy was concentrated on getting students a diploma, not prepping for college work.
Earning college credit during high school was new, and very few students were able to take advantage of it. High school students had to actually travel to the college or university to attend class.
I now have two children of my own in college. At their high school, no one fought about the best fertilizer for soybeans after school at the flagpole. In our community, we have many stoplights and more than one gas station and, thankfully, their college search was a completely different experience from my own.
When they began to plan for college, they had incredible amounts of information at the click of a mouse—campus choices, programs offered, applications, financial aid, scholarships, all within reach at home or at school. There were programs designed with algorithms to help them find the perfect campus, major, and career goals.
Most important for my children and their classmates, no one ever told them their dreams weren’t possible. They were not asked if they had a back-up plan.
May we never decide for a student he or she isn’t worthy of college—or any career path—because of his or her gender, race, religion, or any other reason. May no student ever lack support in reaching his or her goals.
Julie Scullen is a former member of the ILA Board of Directors and also served as president of the Minnesota Reading Association and Minnesota Secondary Reading Interest Council. She taught most of her career in secondary reading intervention classrooms and now serves as Teaching and Learning Specialist for Secondary Reading in Anoka-Hennepin schools in Minnesota, working with teachers of all content areas to foster literacy achievement. She teaches graduate courses at Hamline University in St. Paul in literacy leadership and coaching, disciplinary literacy, critical literacy, and reading assessment and evaluation.