The Plight of the First-Generation Scholar: Can personalized learning better prepare students who are unfamiliar with the college experience?

The Plight of the First-Generation Scholar: Can personalized learning better prepare students who are unfamiliar with the college experience?

“First-generation” is a term that generates great pride within many college graduates who hold the title. This pride stems from recognizing the tenacity you had to develop in order to navigate a path unfamiliar to many, if not all, of your family and friends. It stems from understanding how you have to create and protect the vision of success you hold onto, despite the misconceptions society has of what those who look like or come from the same place as you may have. It stems from the acknowledgement of those who took special interest in you by sacrificing their time, energy, and resources to ensure that you were able to make it, even when they were not required to. However, along with that emotion, there is always a sense of gravitas that reminds you of the countless others who, just like you, deserved to flaunt the same title you earned, but who somehow got lost along the way.

The plight of first-generation scholars rests on professionalism—the fact that achieving a four-year degree hinges upon a student’s mastery of the basics of professionalism by the time they graduate high school. And many first-generation students succumb to the challenges of the journey because they do not acquire the necessary resources and tools to construct their professional identity.

At Friendship Technology Preparatory Academy, we aim to solve this issue by using a personalized learning approach to prepare our students for real world experiences and developing their professional and academic skills sets. Located in our nation’s capital, Tech Prep offers a personalized learning model based on a two-part Professional Boot Camp course spread across students’ junior and senior years. The course targets development of the soft skills scholars need to achieve success in both the college and career world.

In Year One, students participate in flexible rotations and learn through technology, teacher-led instruction, and project-based learning tasks. Using technology such as Blendspace, I am able to hand-select resources to create a “playlist” of lessons for students to navigate independently. In another rotation, students have one-to-one check-ins with me to ensure they are covering the material at the expected pace, grasping essential concepts, and creating goals for them to meet in a set period of time. The last rotation engages students with project-based tasks, which encourage real-life problem-solving skills and teamwork.

Currently, my Year One students are wrapping up a unit on professional communication. During this unit, students engage with professional communication concepts through online media such as massive open online courses (MOOCs), images, and other teacher-created materials. To demonstrate understanding of the unit, students work together on projects. They apply their new skills to create videos and posters demonstrating effective professional communication in a public service announcement format, allowing them to impart professional knowledge to their peers.
Year Two builds upon the students’ success in their first year by applying their professional knowledge in internships they attend during the last portion of their school day. Using a flipped classroom method, students check in with the College and Career Coordinator and cover necessary material during lunch meetings in addition to keeping track of their goals using the online Naviance program.

Even in its early stages, the Professional Boot Camp course has positively impacted our students. Three juniors in the course have applied their communication skills to interview for the prestigious OSSE Scholars Summer Enrichment Program. In addition, seniors have reported utilizing their knowledge of professionalism gained from coursework and internship experience to contribute to the college application process. They express more confidence when having interviews, have real-world experiences to bolster their resumes, and make effective initial contact with college representatives. Overall, the personalized learning course looks to fulfill its promise of better preparing our first-generation students for success in college and career.

Written by Eric Collazo

Eric Collazo

Eric Collazo is a tenth grade English Language Arts teacher at Friendship Technology Preparatory Academy and a 2014 Education Innovation Fellow.

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