At Carver Elementary School, students are surrounded with college-bound motivation. Each classroom is named after a different university, and on Fridays students show college pride by wearing their favorite university’s shirt – a tradition in the St. Louis Public School District Office too.
“We try to have an academic and character outcome push so kids are ultimately bound for college,” said Anna Westlund, principal of Carver Elementary, located at 3325 Bell Ave.
In the fourth-grade classroom, visitors are greeted with a luminous “Class of 2028” sign – a small way teacher Amanda Ingram gets her students excited about continuing their education.
Although almost all of Ingram’s students were wearing navy blue Howard University T-shirts, they have other college plans.
“I want to go to Harris-Stowe (State University) to get my pharmacy tech degree,” said Dion Feazell, 10.
Also wanting to stay local is 10-year-old Alicia Nsoah.
“I want to go to Saint Louis University because it’s close and it’s big, and I want to be a math teacher,” Nsoah said.
Patrick Wallace, spokesman for St. Louis Public Schools, said Carter is a good example of how the district emphasizes post-secondary opportunities starting in elementary school. In July the district opened the office of college and career readiness.
“Before that, career and tech was one office,” said Elizabeth Bender, associate superintendent of the office. “College readiness was a little here and there. People were working in silos.”
Bender noticed that though the district has 13 high schools, there were only five college centers with career specialists. Bender changed that by Thanksgiving, and now each high school has a college center with a full-time specialist.
Bender said the district’s college-bound initiative does not only encourage students to pursue a bachelor’s degree at a traditional college.
“There are a lot of good jobs in our community that people aren’t qualified for, so when we look at our students we want to make sure everybody knows all the options,” said Bender. “We need some kind of college and career experience after high school. So that could be a bachelor’s degree, it could be an associate’s degree, it also could be training.”
During the past three years, the number of SLPS students who have earned a qualifying score on the ACT, SAT and other college-prep tests has gone up – from 35.9 percent in 2013 to 43.8 in 2015. The percentage of students who successfully landed a place in a two-year college, four-year college, the military or an employment-related field has also increased, from 77.8 percent in 2013 to 80.5 percent in 2015.
“We’re making sure at the end of the junior year these students are working on essays and personal statements for college, scholarships or what they want to do,” said Bender. “We want to get them into college or somewhere they want to be that will lead them on their path.”
Every week, Carver Elementary holds “character assemblies,” where school leaders talk about college with the students. Students have visited nearby schools such as Harris-Stowe, Webster and St. Louis universities. For this year’s field trip, Carver’s fifth graders traveled to downtown Chicago to visit DePaul University. The trip was funded by The Regional Business Council and the Clark-Fox Family foundation.
“At least they know there are lots of different places for them to consider,” said Westlund. “This has all been made possible by really generous community donors.”
Westlund said the local Jackson State Alumni Association chapter has showed tremendous support to Carver’s students this school year by donating paraphernalia and speaking to students about college-readiness.
“I think in our dream world, a college adopts a classroom and we somehow have a partnership with the college and our students,” she said.
Rovyion Jones, 10, believes school is a privilege and wants to attend his classroom’s namesake at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
“I think school is a good opportunity because you get to learn every day,” he said. “The teachers don’t have to come here every day and teach us. It’s an opportunity for us.”