During the fourth annual DiscoverU week this year, College Success Foundation Seattle wants students to ask “Why?”
Keith Stier-Van Essen, the Director of Programs at College Success Foundation (CSF) Seattle, says that answering the question “Why am I here?” is the cornerstone of education. But he thinks this question is not asked enough, and he hopes that CSF participation in DiscoverU will help elevate this discussion.
“If I were a teacher I’d be trying to focus on why you’re here. Let’s revisit: Why are you here? Because if students lose track of why they’re here, they lose interest,” Stier-Van Essen said. “‘What’s in it for me?’ [If] they lose interest, they lose momentum. Especially for low-income students who are thinking about so much other stress in their lives outside of the classroom.”
College Success Foundation offers college preparation and support services for middle school, high school and college students of low-income backgrounds and has offices in Washington state and Washington DC, and has participated in DiscoverU since the campaign’s inception in 2013. Stier-Van Essen says that the partnership is natural since CSF’s mission of helping students find a college or career pathway that works for them aligns perfectly with DiscoverU goals.
CSF Seattle supports schools in Seattle, Highline, Auburn and Kent school districts, where it also places staff members. Having those staff members has allowed CSF Seattle to get creative in how they participate during DiscoverU week. Staff members search for inspiration on the DiscoverU website for activities that they can do in classrooms or events they can host for their students. Stier-Van Essen says that these staff members are essentially DiscoverU advocates all year long.
For example, this year CSF Seattle staff will help support the FAFSA/WASFA evening event that Kent-Meridian High School is hosting in the middle of DiscoverU week. The event will cover how to pay for college expenses, which some low-income families might not be prepared for. Stier-Van Essen says at such an event, students and their families will learn about what kind of aid from the government and foundations are available to tap into. CSF Seattle will also support activities such as wearing college gear when Kent-Meridian High School students take the SAT— which the district sponsors. The hope is that this kind of messaging will translate into students of low-income backgrounds feeling that they belong in higher education and that there are fulfilling career pathways available to them.
The message from the entire school staff community is, “We went places and now it’s your turn to find out where you’re going next,” Stier-Van Essen said.
For CSF Seattle, the next step after this year’s DiscoverU is expanding conversations about college and career readiness beyond the week-long programs. Although throughout the four-year partnership CSF Seattle has seen DiscoverU transform from a one-day to a week-long event, Stier-Van Essen says that broader and deeper conversations to ensure student success post-high school graduation are necessary. He hopes to enroll students into CSF programs and other college access programs that will support these deeper conversations.
After students have asked why, it’s time for them to ask how.
“What [resources] are you going to rely on? What programs are you going to get involved in to really step your game up?” Stier-Van Essen said. “We can’t let this be a one-week discussion.”