Monday, September 10, 2012

How celebrities are playing a part in encouraging education

Would having a celebrity call to wake you up in the morning help encourage you to get up and get to class?

That's just one innovative way the non-profit Get Schooled is mixing "sizzle with substance" to encourage students to graduate high school and reach their educational goals. 

I recently spoke with Marie Groark, the executive director of the Get Schooled, about her college journey, what it's like to have such a cool job, and more about what Get Schooled is doing to help students across the country reach their goals. 

Marie grew up in what was then one of the poorest cities in the country - Hartford, Connecticut. Marie owes her college success to her mom: "I was in my second week in an honors English class and I decided the class was too hard for me. I asked the teacher if I could switch out and she said 'sure no problem.' When I came home and told my mom the class was too hard, wow, you should have seen the look on her face. It was that moment I realized you don't set low expectations in our family. I stayed in the class."

While Marie knows every student needs this important blend of encouragement and high expectation, she knows millions of students do not get that from their parents. "You really see the stark difference when you’re growing up among that poverty," she said of her childhood in Hartford. This disparity inspired Marie to work in education.

However, like most college students, she still wasn't sure what to do when she graduated college. She first got a job in the District Attorney's office in New York: "I thought maybe I should be a lawyer. But then I saw tons of 15 and 16 year olds who had committed these crimes. And I knew that I just had to stay focused on education."

Marie went on to become a high school social studies teacher and attended graduate school at Columbia University Teachers College and then the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government.  

Marie is a great example of how passion plus higher education can lead to incredible job opportunities. But she explains how it takes time: "In your undergraduate years you don’t always realize how big the world is and how many places you can go or how many different paths you can take. Getting out of my comfort zone and meeting new people was huge."

In addition to being a teacher Marie also worked for IBM and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. And then she joined Get Schooled to help bridge the gaps she saw growing up. 

I could hear her voice brighten when she said: "We want to help young people see their potential, set high expectations for themselves, and believe that they can reach those goals. We then want to give them access to the information they need to make those dreams a reality."

Marie sees her current job as her dream job. By mixing her passion for education with pop culture, she believes they can really make an impact by meeting students right where they are and speaking to them through the role models they're already listening to. 

In her work, Marie works with middle and high schools, corporate partners, and celebrities to bring content, inspiration, and tools to students in entertaining ways that will ensure they actually get the message. 

In short, substance with sizzle

One of their biggest projects includes their attendance challenge where high schools compete to have a celebrity be "principal for the day" at their school (which includes the celebrity speaking to classes, making announcements on the loud speaker, and sometimes performing at an assembly). 

Marie says the adults in the high schools are often blown away by the amazing things that happen when you invite young people to be a part of the education conversation. As Marie puts it, "Education isn't something that should happen to kids, but something that is done with them in full partnership." 

They'll soon be rolling out another challenge to help more young people fill out their FAFSA to attend college. 

The earlier students can begin to see the value in showing up to school, setting goals, working hard, and establishing relationships with positive role models, the better our entire educational system and economy will be. The more I work in higher education, the more I see how crucial high school is. 

If you're in college, I encourage you to think about how you might go back and help mentor students at your high school. Or perhaps think about how your campus club could do a project to reach out, motivate, tutor, and/or mentor high school students in your local area. High school students are in desperate need of more one-on-one college guidance, and while you may not be BeyoncĂ©, you can certainly have just as big of an impact. 

And finally, I just had to share with you the great advice Marie shared when I asked her about figuring out what you want to do with your college education and finding your dream job: "Realize that success often happens in smaller steps than we would like, and it's almost never a clear A to Z path - it's often very curvy. If someone had told me in college I'd be doing this I would have been like "really? really?!?" It was a lot about building different skills and meeting a lot of amazing people along the way. Do your best every day and take advantage of every opportunity, because you truly never know where each opportunity will lead."

To keep up with Get Schooled or get your own celebrity wake up call check them out on Facebook, Twitter, and

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