The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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October 24, 2012

New Joplin program brings college to classroom discussion

JOPLIN, Mo. — Katelyn Hunter dreams of one day being a veterinarian — and she has an idea of what she’ll need to do to get there.

“I think if I don’t go to college, I won’t be able to be a vet,” the Joplin fifth-grader said. “And I think it (college) will give me all the classes, and teach me all the different kinds of animals and how to take care of them.”

Katelyn and her classmates at Columbia Elementary School are part of a new program called Operation College Bound, which launched last month and is designed to get students thinking about college, even at a young age. It’s being piloted this year at Columbia, and its creators hope to eventually take it to all schools in the Joplin School District.

“Really our goal here is to plant that seed in each of our kids that college is a possibility, making sure that each student, no matter what background they come from, knows that it’s possible to go to college,” said Sarah Mwangi, Columbia’s principal.

Superintendent C.J. Huff said the program ties directly into the district’s focus on improving the graduation rate, which was 79.1 percent in 2011, 81.6 percent in 2010, 75.1 percent in 2009 and 73.5 percent in 2008, according to data from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The state average hovered between 86 percent and 87 percent during those four years, according to the department.

“This is just an opportunity to pilot a program that will hopefully take us to that next level,” Huff said.

Huff said he hopes that by launching a conversation about college, the program will increase the chance that students will graduate from high school “if they can envision beyond where they are now.”

The program focuses on the importance of a college education because of research that has demonstrated the positive outcomes of possessing a college degree, Mwangi said. Median earnings for young adults with a bachelor’s degree were $45,000 in 2010, compared with $37,000 for those with an associate degree, $29,900 for those with a high school diploma or its equivalent, and $21,000 for those without a high school diploma, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, a division of the U.S. Department of Education.

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