Giving Cottonwood-Oak Creek Area Middle-Schoolers a Taste of College

Cottonwood, AZ | Submitted by Heather Wacker

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For young students in the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District, college may not even be a thought. Most come from low-income homes and would be the first generation college student in their families. That’s why the team at Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District knew it was critical to help these students understand that higher education was an option, and that it would make a pivotal difference in their lives. That’s how the Arizona College and Career Ready Student Program was created.

The district is home to more than 200 eighth graders, which means it’s no small feat to inspire each one. To do that, the district’s College and Career Readiness Coach meets individually with students throughout the year to motivate and help them plan. They discuss college readiness, career interests and even high school preparation.

To make things more real for students, the district also orchestrates an annual career fair, where dozens of local businesses are invited to speak to the importance of continued education, the nature of their work and the steps needed to get there. Many of these companies also allow students to job shadow, which enables them to see first-hand what their future might look like.

Another concern for some is the transition to high school, as many come from small towns and small schools. To mitigate anxiety about moving to the high school, Cottonwood-Oak Creek created a transition program – “Marauder for a Day” at Mingus Union – in which parents and students both get to learn more about what to expect, and also attend a sporting event.
Of course, high school isn’t the only major transition to consider. Students are given the opportunity to visit four college campuses: Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Yavapai College. Many students never leave Cottonwood, so this is their chance to see what universities are like, and to solidify a vision of their goal. This year the district has 19 students headed to Arizona State University’s Barrett Summer Scholars program, which will provide a unique, first-hand university experience.

The early one-on-one interactions with the College and Career Readiness Coach are key – students are exposed to higher education opportunities at a time when they can make it a realistic goal. What’s more, the presence of an advisor beyond the usual academic advisor has shown great results. Students become very excited when they learn what’s possible for their future.

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