We are in March Madness. Ask every basketball player when they started their quest to play basketball in the coveted NCAA Tournament. They will say they started in the 6th or 7th grade—if not before. They set their goals and aspirations at that age. They practiced with that goal in mind. In the 8th grade, they refined these efforts and, based on NCAA rules, are now being recruited by colleges—yes, that is right! They join AAU leagues, they play summer leagues. They stop doing other sport and activities and focus efforts on basketball. In 9th and 10th grades, they intensify these efforts by going on travel teams that take them across the country. They begin to narrow their choices of universities (and coaches) they want to play for. They double down on their own practices, hire private coaches. In the 11th grade they begin visiting schools, and many make “early decisions.” Take a look at the picture below...It was taken five or six years ago. Each one of them made a commitment—and it paid off.
I write this to say, if we expect our children, the future students at my university, to truly be college ready, we need to have them go through the same commitment process and exercise their mind to prepare when they are in the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. We need them to set their goals and ambitions. They need to set the road map and not shy away from tough and rigorous classes. They need to “play against the best teams and players,” which means taking four years of math, two years of foreign languages, and extra science courses. They need to attend summer college opportunities (i.e., at my university, we offer the “Common Wealth Honors College,” which allows rising juniors to attend a six week semester on our campus taking courses from our professors and gain college credit) just as others attend AAU tournaments.
In addressing 6th, 7th and 8th graders, I always ask if there are athletes in the room. And I always get a “yes.” I ask, when do you start practicing for a big game? When do you start practicing to get in the varsity squad? How many of you want to play at a university and when do you start preparing for that? The day before the big game, the day of tryouts, or months and years before? They all say, months and years before....Then I say, “Then start practicing for your university experience now. Don’t view homework as a chore, but as a practice session for your chance to play in the big game, to get on the varsity squad, to get into your university of choice. Don’t view teachers as someone who is assigning you busy work, rather as your coach, as your personal coach, who is preparing you to win the game, to get on the varsity squad, and to prepare you for your next ‘game,’ which is getting that A, graduating from high school and going on to a university.” I tell them not to shy away from competition, but to embrace the challenges of life, as they will only make you better.
Our goal is to make champions—and one (and not the only) symbol of that is a diploma from a University. To do that, you must practice day in a day out, chart your course out, set high goals and expectations, hold yourself accountable, prepare and do the work. You cannot do that in your last year of high school. It starts in the 6th grade with the mindset, it continues in the 8th grade with the plan, and it is implemented each day, week, month and semester all through high school.
By Dr. Robert O. Davies
Known for his student-centered philosophy, commitment to the community, unyielding advocacy for higher education and inclusive leadership style, Dr. Robert O. Davies has served as the president of Murray State University since July 2014.
One of the most popular phrases we hear from educational experts these days is something along the lines of producing graduates who are ‘college and career ready.’ While this is a wonderful feel-good cliché, the question is what are K-12 school districts actually doing to facilitate this process? The answer to this is generally hit and miss until the latter years of high school. Unfortunately, this might be too late for some students. Yes, there might be some fun events for elementary and middle school students such as going to a basketball game or a career fair, but there really isn’t a lot of direct instruction for students about what it means to go to college and, more importantly, what they need to do earlier in their academic progression to position themselves for the university of their choice. This applies not only to first-generation college students as well as students who come from families where going to college is a general expectation.
It was a very personal experience that brought this home to me. With university administrators, professors, and many, many teachers in our family, there was never any doubt that my daughter would go to college. However, it wasn’t until the obligatory ‘Junior Year Spring Break College Tour’ that we realized she wasn’t as prepared for the college admission process as we thought. While touring a highly ranked university in California, we discovered that many universities have specific requirements that differ slightly from other universities, mostly as a way to easily winnow a large number of highly qualified applicants down. Upon discovering a favorite university would not consider my daughter’s application because she didn’t take a Fine Arts class in high school, I said to myself, Gee, this would have been good information to have known when you were a Freshman. And, with this comment, the seeds of a project for my 8th-grade students were planted. This light-bulb moment of mine is actually supported by the 2014 Obama Report to increase college opportunities by encouraging educators to connect 8th graders with college admissions counselors to develop a curriculum plan to set students on the right path for admissions.
What came out of this idea is now a rite-of-passage project my 8th-grade students complete every spring where they mimic virtually everything they will do during their high school senior year, from applying to a college, visiting our local university, stressing out over ‘College Acceptance Day,’ and researching the college they were ‘accepted’ for admission requirements, academic reputation, history and traditions, student life, and financial commitments. Ultimately, it isn’t the college they research that is important, but rather committing to an advanced and rigorous course of study, along with purposeful extra-curricular involvement during their high school years. My students do this by presenting their research and their high school plan to panels of their high school administrators, counselors, teachers and student leaders. It’s a wonderful event that celebrates their achievements in middle school while also allowing them to look forward to their high school years with the prospect of going to college on the far horizon. This project is timed to align with their high school registration and begins with the words, “The decisions you start making today will affect where you will be ten years from now.” To further bring the point home, students also read the enjoyable memoir Rocket Boys by Homer Hickham while completing this project.
We're Doing It Wrong Blog Categories