College, career readiness and the pursuit of the ‘American Dream’

When growing up in Marshalltown as a young child, my mother and father often emphasized the importance of getting a good education and especially the need for my sister and I to attend college or some form of post-secondary education. The short term effort of going to school and performing well would pay long-term benefits in the future, they would say. We lived a fairly middle class existence and never had to worry about a roof over our heads, clothes on our back, food on the table, or heat and air conditioning for the appropriate seasons, etc. We knew there were people with much less than we had and that there were people that had much more in terms of material things (expensive homes, cars, vacations, toys, etc.).

My parents instilled work ethic into me by expecting me to experience work first-hand at an early age. In addition to our daily and weekly chores, I mowed lawns and removed snow from a few of our neighbors’ properties. I, along with a number of my elementary school friends, held paper routes for the Des Moines Register or Times-Republican. Once big and strong enough, I became a caddy at Elmwood Country Club where it wasn’t uncommon to work two shifts (a.m. and p.m.) carrying two golf bags for 18 holes; two to three days a week. During my junior high school years my teachers and coaches educated many of us so that we could officiate youth football and basketball games for the Marshalltown Football League and YMCA Youth Basketball Leagues.

This was a rewarding community service experience that also taught us the value and importance of sportsmanship. While in high school, I often worked weekends and during my athletic off seasons in the stock room of the local hardware store unloading trucks and stocking shelves. All of these opportunities provided me with work and life experiences that helped me grow to appreciate the value of hard work, quality service, time management, giving back to my community and most importantly the value added of attaining an education beyond high school.

When I graduated from Marshalltown High School in the early 1980s, many of my classmates chose to go right into the world of work; within local businesses and industries, and were successful doing so. Unbeknownst to most of us at that time, our local, state and national economy only needed about a quarter of us to pursue post-secondary educations. If you were willing and able to work hard, there were opportunities for those with only a high school diploma in the workforce and one could access a decent livelihood doing so. Now, nearly 40 years later, our economy has transitioned from a predominately agricultural and industrial model to a knowledge and service oriented one. Advances in technology and its impact on globalization has changed the game whereas three-quarters of our students now need some form of post-secondary education experience; whether it be community college, military, trade school or college and/or university, in order to attain marketable skills and be gainfully employed in today’s workforce.

I contend that the American Dream, the desire for one’s children to pursue their dreams and attain a successful work and life experience, is alive and well. The Declaration of Independence protects ones opportunity to improve your life, no matter who you are as it boldly proclaims: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Now, more than ever, high school students must be prepared for higher education or skilled professions in the workplace. Despite messages advocating the need to be college and career ready, many parents, students, and educators remain unclear on what “college and career readiness” actually means.

College readiness, according to the Educational Policy Improvement Center, means “that a student can enter a college classroom, without remediation, and successfully complete entry-level college requirements … The advancement of reading, writing, and numeric skills that enable success in all college courses.”

Career readiness means that a high school graduate has the knowledge and skills needed to qualify for and succeed in the postsecondary job training or education necessary for their chosen career. These competencies include critical thinking and problem solving: the ability to exercise sound reasoning to analyze issues, make decisions and overcome problems.

The Marshalltown Community School District has created a new vision to prepare ALL learners, through an unparalleled culture of excellence, to be productive and engaged citizens in a diverse world. This will be accomplished through our new mission, which is to develop learners who have the knowledge, skills and positive mindset to successfully pursue a meaningful future through personalized learning experiences. As superintendent of the Marshalltown Community School District, I feel that it is our moral imperative to do whatever it takes as a school community, to make sure each of our students is well positioned to successfully pursue their goals and dreams and to ultimately achieve what we have known to be the American Dream. The continued success of our nation, state and community depend on it.

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Dr. Theron Schutte is superintendent of the Marshalltown Community School District.