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Middle Schools Look for Ways to Connect Students with College and Careers

 This fall students at Granite Valley Middle School will get a glimpse of college life and learn about possible careers through a new agreement between the 1,100-student district in Monson, Mass., and four nearby colleges. 

Faculty from Springfield Technical College, Elms College, Springfield College, and Western New England University in the Springfield, Mass., area met this summer with middle school teachers to brainstorm about activities to connect the students and staff.

Among the possibilities: bring students to the campuses for tours, recruit college students to serve as mentors; provide professional development for teachers at the college, allow technology from the campuses to be used at the middle school; and invite college professors to be guest speakers in Monson.

All colleges are within 30 minutes of the middle school and each is assigned a different grade in the partnership, which was formalized this summer.

"The whole push for college- and career-readiness can't just be an add-on with counselors delivering a lesson," says Robert Bardwell, director of school counseling for the district, who initiated the project. "It needs to be integrated if you want students to be better prepared."

Bryan Gross, vice president for enrollment management at Western New England, says he envisions middle school students interested in engineering coming to campus to observe the solar energy decathlon or shadowing a student in the robotics lab.  Perhaps the college will sponsor a Monson baseball night or let a middle school student volunteer to help out as a bench coach.

"Working with middle school students, as opposed to high school, you have to keep it very interactive," says Gross, adding that the university sees the partnership as a recruiting opportunity.  "The only way to get the word out is to build a genuine relationship with students at an early age."

Mini-internships and co-sponsored community fundraisers are some of the ideas that Patricia Cawley, an 8th grade English teacher at the middle school, has for the new partnership. Although middle school students have a hard time projecting what college will be like, the hope is that the exposure will make them see it is a possibility, she says.  "We want them to understand the choices they are making now will impact them in the next two or three years. That's our mission, to get [students] to take it seriously," says Cawley.

Increasingly, middle schools are looking for opportunities to expose students to careers in hopes the experience will motivate them to stay on track through high school and aspire to college. For more on apprenticeships, mentoring. and other initiatives for middle school students, see my story, "Career Prep Moves Into Middle Schools," on the home page today.

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