Students Explore College and Careers With Upcoming DiscoverU Week and Art Contest

by Mark Van Streefkerk 

Get ready for the eighth annual DiscoverU week this October 12-16, a week where students from Kindergarten through 12th grade will explore college and career pathways after high school. DiscoverU is a campaign in service to the Road Map Project goal of increasing post-secondary education enrollment in seven school districts in South King County and South Seattle. In anticipation of the week this year, all K-12 students in Road Map Project’s focus districts are being invited to enter an art contest. To qualify, artwork must address one of the five prompts based on DiscoverU theme days: Discover Local Jobs, Lead Your Community, Classroom to Career, College Gear, and Flash Forward Friday. $20 will be given to the first 100 qualifying entries, with $100 prize awards for each of the winners in 20 categories, as well as two $300 grand prize winners determined by popular vote. Read more about the contest and how to enter here. The contest deadline is October 2, 2020. 

DiscoverU offers resources for exploring post-secondary education pathways all year, but a week is designated every October to encourage students, families, educators, and community groups to focus on them together. Some post-secondary pathways include four-year public or private colleges or universities, community or technical colleges, trade schools, and certificate programs or apprenticeships. Larissa Reza, College and Career Coordinator for the Community Center for Education Results (CCER), said the sooner students start thinking about life after high school, the better they are at achieving their goals. 

Two students from Lakeland Elementary look at DiscoverU week posters. Photo from last year. (Photo courtesy of Larissa Reza.)

“Sometimes what happens is that students aren’t being talked to about their futures until they’re about to graduate high school. That could be really overwhelming,” Reza explained. “It’s important to get students to think as early as possible about their different college and career opportunities so when they get to high school, and it is that time to start applying for these different colleges and thinking about these post-secondary pathways, they have more of a vision. It’s something they have thought about for a while.”

Reza said that of high school students in the Road Map region, 72 percent of whom are students of color, “95 percent of our students told us that they want to go on to post-secondary. And 93 percent of the students who took our survey said they expect themselves to attend post-secondary.” Despite their aspirations, only 30 percent of those students will attain a post-secondary credential within six years after high school graduation, according to the 2019 Road Map Results Report

Community Center for Education Results (CCER) is the nonprofit backbone organization, or the “larger umbrella”  that supports the Road Map Project and DiscoverU. The Road Map Project and DiscoverU are technically separate, but work together. Both initiatives operate from an anti-racist equity strategy that centers BIPOC, low-income, and first-generation students, and seeks to address barriers to education that these groups face. The Road Map Project also collects data about the needs and aspirations of students through surveys, finding the right resources to support them. Reza noted post-secondary education improves access to living wage jobs which can be a lifeline in a city facing rapid displacement. The 2019 Road Map Results Report stated that “Rising rents in Seattle, ranked the fastest-growing major U.S. city in the last decade, have pushed families out. Since 2010, the region has seen a 22 percent increase in low-income students (to 77,035 students in 2019) and a 127 percent increase in homelessness (to 4,513 students in 2019.)”

She pointed out data that shows students of color and first-generation students rely mostly on educators and school staff for knowledge about college and career information: “It takes a lot of people having these conversations with our students. It’s not just one person’s role or responsibility.”

Over 2020’s upcoming DiscoverU week, school staff, families, and community organizations will rally together to focus on post-secondary options through theme days. DiscoverU has made COVID-19 adaptations to their educator guides so many activities can be done virtually. Starting on Monday, October 12, the first theme is Discover Local Jobs, highlighting jobs in Washington that students might not be aware of. Tuesday’s theme is Lead Your Community, where students explore jobs that help create change in their communities. Wednesday’s theme is Classroom to Career, emphasizing how what students learn now will support them in a career. Thursday is College Gear Day, where participants are encouraged to wear gear from a college or other postsecondary program. Flash Forward Friday invites students to transport themselves into the future to “think about who you are in the future.” “What is your vision for who you see yourself as?” Reza said.

Pre-COVID, educators would decorate their classroom doors for DiscoverU week. Awards would be given for best-decorated doors. Last year, Rosa Nouch (pictured) from Mercer International Middle School accepted the Most Creative door award. (Photo by Larissa Reza.)

To help support community organizations and educators during the week of activities, DiscoverU is offering mini grants for Lead Your Community day and Family Engagement. A total of $8,000 will be awarded through the mini grants to help host college and career events. The deadline to apply for these grants is this Friday, September 18, at 5 p.m. Apply for the Lead Your Community grant here, and the Family Engagement grant here

The art contest winners will be announced during DiscoverU week on DiscoverU’s website and social media platforms. Reza is already impressed by some of the early entries. “It is amazing what some of the students have submitted to us. It’s their dreams and hopes for the future that they’re turning into us and seeing them envision it for themselves is amazing and empowering,” she observed. “Students are telling you themselves, ‘This is who I want to be and this is who I see myself being.’”

Mark Van Streefkerk is a South Seattle-based journalist living in the Beacon Hill neighborhood.

Featured image: Two students from New Start High School attending a YMCA event last year that provided students with college and financial aid knowledge. YMCA was a recipient of a Lead Your Community day mini grant. (Photo by Uly Curry.)