Spring is just around the corner, which means summer isn't far off. For America, summer means the traditional three-month hiatus for most students. The U. S. is one of the few nations that still bows to the practice of a summer break in deference to an agrarian economy.
But the United States isn't primarily an agrarian economy anymore. Eric Schlosser, in his book, Fast Food Nation, says there are more people in prison than there are full-time farmers. While agriculture remains an important contributor to our country, it's no longer the driving force it once was. Today, we live in what's been called the "knowledge" or "information" economy. Computer technology and the ability to analyze, synthesize, and abstract information have become important skills for everyone.
At community colleges, and even at many four-year colleges, a good portion of students come to college weak in some basic academic skill, like writing or mathematics. Some students, although they're above average in high school class work, are naïve about the rigors of college-level work. Summer is a great time for students to fine tune reading, writing, and math skills; gain experience in college-level work; or expand computer competencies. It's also a good time to explore film, creative writing, music, and theater. The community college can help students prepare ahead of time for going to college, regardless of whether they choose a community college experience or choose to go into the university system.
Many parents are unaware that in the State of Illinois, high school students can enroll in college classes. At Illinois Central College, for example, high school students can enroll in college-level classes by getting the approval of their principal or guidance counselor, submitting an application, and taking the appropriate placement test for math or composition classes. Students can get a head start on college work that will transfer to most four-year schools while at the same time learning to handle college-level work. ICC has actually had students who graduated from high school and earned an associate's degree at the same time.
Classes on a college campus also provide an important learning experience for younger students. ICC's College for Kids brings youngsters to the college campus. They can take fun classes in science, magic, or computers. Or they can learn how to study more effectively. While these children won't earn college credit for their efforts, they develop something more important-an early experience with the benefits college can offer them.
As the knowledge economy grows, more workers will require some post-secondary education to be effective. In our own community, initiatives like Peoria NEXT recognize the need to develop a well-educated workforce with strong critical thinking skills and the ability to be creative and innovative. One of the best ways to create an interest in college-level learning is to get high school and elementary students involved early in the college experience. Summer is an ideal time for students to explore what college is and how it can benefit them. IBI