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Ready or Not: A difficult transition for first-year students, and what’s getting them through

Michigan State University freshman, Kaisha Perkins, left, catches up with her “big sister” and MSU student, Kai Brown, on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019 on the MSU campus.
PHOTO CREDIT: Elaine Cromie / Chalkbeat

When we left Marqell McClendon, Kashia Perkins, and Demetrius Robinson earlier this fall, the three Detroit high school graduates were on the verge of beginning a college journey that many students don’t complete.

Now, Lori Higgins is back with another dispatch from their first semester in college — one that hasn’t been easy for any of them. McClendon is struggling in her remedial math class. Robinson is realizing that hard work won’t necessarily translate into high grades. And Perkins is grappling with whether to drop a science major that will take her five years to complete.

One thing the three students have in common: people and programs supporting them through the challenging transition. Lori’s story focuses on those programs and what they’re doing to increase the likelihood that the students make it to graduation.

“We’re Pathways,” an academic advisor at Central Michigan University told Robinson and other students in his program. “We’re a little more up in your business. The reason we do this is to set you up for success.”

Read the entire story here.

Headshot of Lori HigginsBEHIND THE STORY This semester’s reporting has offered a blast from the past for Lori, who shared a bit about her own difficult transition to college when she began at Chalkbeat a year ago.

“I look at the experiences that the students are having now and it really brings back a lot of sometimes unpleasant memories of my own first year, particularly the first semester, where I realized that my education hadn’t fully prepared me for college,” she says now.

“When I hear Marqell talk about how the concepts seem familiar but she still doesn’t get it and doesn’t get why, I totally get that. I totally remember being in this remedial math class class and being really frustrated by that experience.”

Let that thought serve as a teaser for the next Ready or Not story out of Newark, coming soon. And later this fall, you can expect another story from Lori about the role the Michigan students’ high schools are playing in the college journeys. For now, here’s Lori’s big takeaway from this story:

“Forget about all the different services that these programs provide,” Lori says. “To me it’s key that there’s an adult at the school that’s looking out for them. … There’s something to be said for someone who cares about you and what your future goals are and can help you get there. If I hadn’t had Dr. Reed sit down with me, I probably would have dropped out because I think I would have become so discouraged.”

TELL US Who was your Dr. Reed? We want to hear about the adults who kept you on course when college might have seemed overwhelming. Reply to this email to share your story and we’ll round up answers in our next newsletter.

SPEAKING OF STORIES Imani Harris, a former Chalkbeat intern and a graduate of Detroit’s most prestigious public school, shared her own transition-to-college story in a First Person piece last week.

Here’s a taste of what Imani had to say about her first semester at Northwestern University last year:

Exams may be scary for all college students, but I’m positive that nothing compares to the fear, anxiety, and overall disappointment I felt realizing that I hadn’t been prepared by my high school to be there. While I thought I understood most of the readings, study guide questions showed me I had not. Every time I thought I had studied the vocabulary and verb tenses enough, I would fail the small quizzes I gave to myself. And writing my first college essay? Let’s just say that without my school’s writing center, it would not have happened. It was frustrating, but even more than that — it was paralyzing.

Do you have something to say about the transition to college for low-income and first-generation students? Get in touch. We’re looking for personal essays from people who have had their own rocky first semesters or who work in schools with students who are likely to.

AND TO TIDE YOU OVER ... Here are a few powerful stories about the challenge of college we’ve seen recently. Give them a read and we’ll be in touch again soon.

From the Hechinger Report, a story about how just six of 52 graduates of a high-performing New Orleans charter school finished college four years later. “It was the saddest point in my life,” said one student who dropped out of an elite liberal arts college in his sophomore year. “I felt like I couldn’t do anything. I felt inadequate. I didn’t have any type of positive thought about anything.”

From the Boston Globe, the revelation that low-income students from suburban high schools are only half as likely to graduate from college as their more affluent classmates. “The suburbs,” a former Massachusetts state education chief said, “have more resources but less experience in handling the challenges of low-income students.”

And from Chalkbeat, the tale of a New York City guidance counselor who starts working with students when they’re in sixth grade. “This moment of going to college is what a lot of families immigrated here for,” the counselor said. “I try to remember that when things get really hard.”

The post Ready or Not: A difficult transition for first-year students, and what’s getting them through appeared first on Chalkbeat.

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