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New Haven Creates PreK-8 College-Going Curriculum

A new curriculum being developed in Yale University's backyard aims to instill a college-going attitude in students from pre-K through 8th grade as they spend one day a month focused on skills, from goal-setting to financial literacy.

The hope is that the program being announced by New Haven Public Schools officials this morning will better prepare students to take advantage of the New Haven Promise scholarship program, which pays college tuition for up to four years for students who meet residency, academic, and civic requirements.

Last year, the New Haven Promise awarded 112 scholarships to students from the pool of 150 who qualified (800 met the residency requirements). The goal is to double that number of awards next year, with the help of this and other initiatives to create a college-going culture, says Emily Byrne, New Haven Promise director.

The new college-going curriculum, which will be taught starting in October, is divided into monthly topics with activities tailored toward students in pre-K-3, 4-5, and 6th-8th grades.

To develop the lessons, New Haven created a college-going working committee with administrators, teachers, and experts from College Summit, a national non-profit organization that focuses on programs to create a college-going culture.

In May, the schools hosted a "College Day," where the district superintendent and teachers shared with students stories of their pathways to college. "We asked students if this was the first time they thought of going to college—and it was too large of a number that said yes," explains Byrne. "We want kids to be successful in school, graduate from college, and get good quality jobs. That doesn't happen if we just start the conversation in high school."

To reach out to parents, this summer and fall, volunteers in New Haven knocked on doors in city neighborhoods to talk with families about the scholarship program and the importance of college preparation. Volunteers handed out "parent kits," which are guides full of tips and resources designed to empower parents to be more involved in their child's education.

New Haven also offers a college-focused financial literacy class series for parents, "Saving for College 101." The three classes include the basics of banking, financial aid, and long- and short-term savings tools. The hope is to emphasize the importance of saving for college early and to demystify the financial aid process, officials say.

"It's more than a scholarship program," says Byrne. "We want to provide support to students to meet the criteria" to qualify for the tuition. Partnering with College Summit in one New Haven high school resulted in a jump in college applications from 65 percent to 100 percent in two years. "We want to replicate that and have a commitment to raise funds to roll out in College Summit into all high schools in five years," says Byrne.

Spending six hours on college-going activities once a month is a big time commitment for teachers, but Byrne says 89 percent of teachers surveyed after the pilot agreed continual conversation on college was good.

If students see the relevance of what they are doing in class, they are more connected to school and are motivated to perform well, says J.B. Schramm, the co-founder and chief executive officer of College Summit.

But is this pushing too early? Won't kids change their minds?

"Kids are always thinking about what they want to do—be an astronaut or a fireman," says Schramm. "We are trying to help them start seeing how each of those dreams has an education foundation."

And the effort has to be broad and long-term. "To build a college-going culture across a city, you have to start early," says Schramm. "People are so excited about the child's opportunity, but if they haven't been to college themselves ... they have to be equipped in order to support their kid on this long journey."

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