AUBURN, Maine — Heather Hill, 34, came to Sherwood Heights Elementary School on Friday to register her son, Elliott, for kindergarten.
She didn’t know she’d walk away with a phone number to talk to a college adviser about finishing her degree.
In a new outreach, College for ME — Androscoggin, is at the Auburn kindergarten registration site this year to talk to parents about going to college. College for ME is a regional collaborative of colleges and businesses designed to boost the number of degree-holders in Androscoggin County.
“We’re calling this ‘Our families going to college,’” said Jan Phillips, College for ME chairwoman. The outreach idea was hatched after College for ME staffers kept hearing adults say they began thinking about going back to school when they registered their children for kindergarten.
“It’s a powerful moment,” Phillips said. Not only can a degree help increase a family’s earning power, it can boost the quality of their children’s education.
“We know the best predictor of how much education children will get, how well they do in school, is their parents’ education and the value their parents place on education,” Phillips said.
In one Sherwood Heights room, little Elliott was being screened for kindergarten. He sat with teachers as they asked him questions and checked his hearing. In another room, his mother sat across a table from Phillips and College for ME staffer Sandi Croft.
Hill told them she nearly finished her degree at the University of Maine at Farmington, but immersed herself in her work at preschool programs, helping children with special needs.
“It was an amazing job,” Hill said. She worked several other jobs, “then my husband and I decided to have kids.” She’s been busy, raising two young sons, teaching Zumba dance classes at night and with a friend, developing a program called “Hip Kids,” to help youngsters get exercise. She has taken some courses at the University of Southern Maine.
Hill said she’s been thinking about going back to school, but wondered if she’d be better off first working as an education technician to help her nail down her career path.
“Finish your degree,” Phillips coached. “Let me say that again in my best mom voice, ‘Finish your degree.’” Jobs could mean more distraction from getting that degree. Many jobs today require a bachelor’s degree, Phillips said. “You’ve got to get it.” Handing her the name and number of an adviser, Phillips said, “Call this woman!”
“I will,” Hill said with a laugh.
Hill said she was glad to have the counseling. “This is so weird. I didn’t think I’d come to kindergarten registration and talk about college. It jump-started me a little bit, which is what I need.”
Soon another mother, Heather Turcotte, found herself talking to Croft about college. Turcotte was at Sherwood Heights to register her daughter, Hailey, for kindergarten.
Turcotte said she has an associate degree in nursing and works as a nurse at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center, but she was thinking about getting a bachelor’s degree.
“I’ve always said once she goes back to school that’s when I’ll start to go back to school,” Turcotte said. “While she was home I didn’t want to take that time away from her.”
She approved of the information provided by College for ME. “The contact information is nice,” Turcotte said. “They kind of put it on my lap.”
College for ME outreach at kindergarten registration is planned at Lewiston schools next spring, and at all Androscoggin County schools in 2014, Phillips said.
“We’re all about Androscoggin County, raising the access and attainment of higher education,” Phillips said. She said the goal is to double the number of degree-holders between the years 2000 and 2015. “That’s an ambitious goal.”
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