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Street Cred: A Zoology Major and Mother of Four
"I have four children of my own," says Penny Reeves who is Manager of College and Career Counseling for Connections Education.
She worked for a time as manager of counseling for four public schools in California.
"My oldest son went to West Point, served as as Captain in the Army, and is now a professional golfer," she says. "My second son went to UCLA. My oldest daughter went to New York University where she majored in film and television. And my youngest, another daughter, went to a small liberal arts school."
"I had a unique education experience: I majored in zoology," Penny says. "That, plus my experiences with my children, gave me a good perspective for helping other students find their right paths for college and beyond."
"So, putting all this together, I think I have some good perspective about helping children find the right pathways to college and beyond."
Connections Education-supported schools ask students about their career aspirations—an important step in a child's learning experience, especially when it happens early.
'Every Goal is Achievable'
Connections Education, part of Pearson, offers virtual learning solutions to K through 12 students worldwide. Students using their materials are in traditional and full-time virtual public and private schools, as well as blended learning schools.
"My job is to help students find a pathway to college and career that's possible," Penny says. "Every student's goal is different and I never want any student to feel like their goal is unachievable."
"When helping any child, my first question is always: 'What do you like?' or 'What gets you excited?' or 'What do you want to do in the future?'," she says.
"They may not be top of their class, but they have goals and schools they are interested in attending—we can explore different ways around it. There are usually multiple paths to get where they want to go," Penny says.
Exposing Learners to All the Available Pathways to College and Career
Penny and her colleagues offer a variety of clubs for K-12 students attending Connections Education-supported schools. Many of the clubs are focused on life after high school—college clubs, career clubs, first generation clubs—where students can explore the available options after graduation.
"We bring in speakers: recent graduates, grad students, professionals, college admissions officers," Penny says. "The best thing that can happen is that these students hear about all the pathways that are possible to reach their goals."
From 'I'm Stupid" to 'I Want to Be a Lawyer'
Years ago, Penny started a lunchtime program for students at a traditional middle school who had multiple low grades.
"These were at-risk students and, at first, they hated those sessions," Penny says.
"Over time, things started clicking," she says. "We brought in teachers to help students with courses they'd had trouble understanding. Other students who'd had trouble with completing homework started doing their homework during our sessions."
"One young lady had been a 'problem' student for all her teachers," Penny recalls. "She was argumentative and challenged me at every turn."
Penny says her parents had told her she was 'stupid.' Her classmates started calling her 'stupid.' And she started to believe it.
"She worked so hard during our lunchtime sessions," Penny says. "She brought me her next report card, a real improvement in grades, and gave me a hug."
Penny says the young woman told her she wanted to be a lawyer.
"A year later, when those students went to high school," Penny says, "their guidance counselor told me that none of them were on academic probation."
"I wanted these students—all my students—to see all the resources that are available to help them succeed," Penny says. "They started to understand the importance of doing well in class and that teachers, rather than the enemy, were there to help kids reach their goals."
What If a Child Doesn't Know What They Want?
Not every student has a clear idea of their goals.
"I often hear 'I have no idea where I want to go' from students," Penny says. "So the questions turn to their interests. What do they light up about?"
"Maybe it's sports," she says. "I can then connect that to something like math—and show them how doing well in math can help them be successful with their dreams."
"We also have to manage the stress on these students," Penny says. "Nobody is perfect in everything and they're all still kids."
"Any student can find value in their life experience," Penny says. "Someone might say 'I haven't done anything to put on a resume.' So I ask them if they've been babysitting, or taking care of the family pet, or delivering papers, or mowing lawns, or doing jobs around the house."
"All of these soft, intangible skills are valuable," she says. "And even these things can help children achieve their goals."
Finding the Pathways
"I love the creative puzzle when engaging with every child," Penny says. "We start with their goals, then map back to the various pathways that will lead them to those goals."
"We're helping these kids make college and, eventually, a job possible."