“It’s never too early to start,” Collier Schools Superintendent Kamela Patton said to start off a Town Hall meeting hosted by the school district Tuesday on paying for college and postsecondary education.
“What I’ve noticed as superintendent for four and a half years is that we wait too long as a group,” Patton said.
Around 200 people attended the virtual town hall hosted at four different sites, two in Naples, and one in Immokalee and Everglades City. Patton led an hour-long discussion with a panel of various experts in answering questions delivered by the audience in person as well as on social media.
Parents and students in attendance were given a laundry list of resources and information, including how to apply for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, as well as information on other scholarship opportunities through the Community Foundation of Collier County.
The town hall was focused on what happens after graduation, but panelists showed that the preparation should begin much earlier than senior year.
Dr. Leslie Ricciardelli, the director of Secondary Programs, talked about how they start preparing students as early as fifth grade, with a career interest survey meant to get students thinking about what they would be interested in doing when they get older.
The district is also taking seventh grade students on college tours, to Florida Southwestern and Florida Gulf Coast University.
There was also a sobering look at how little a high school education alone does for a graduate’s job prospects, as spelled out by Florida College Access Network’s Troy Miller.
“What we know is that over the last few decades is that a high school diploma by itself is just not enough for most people,” Miller said. “High school graduates in Florida who don’t go to college, half of those have a job in following fall. Of those about 90 percent make $8 or less per hour.”
College is not the only option for students after graduation, as programs offered through Immokalee Technical College and Lorenzo Walker Technical College show. The district offers adult education through those programs, called “Career in a Year,” which typically cost around $4-6,000, but can be done by students while in school at no cost.
The programs allow students to become trained in fields such as nursing, aviation, and construction among others.
“There are 274,200 jobs in Florida waiting to be filled,” Patton said. “There are lots of careers out there…having your child be thinking about those options.”
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