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Putting money in the bank for college: One Indianapolis teacher’s call to action

Katie Johnson at the Teacher Story Slam, April 19, 2018.
Katie Johnson at the Teacher Story Slam, April 19, 2018.
Dylan Peers McCoy

Indianapolis educator Katie Johnson has made it her mission to tell students not only that they can go to college, but that they can afford it, too.

Some of her families at KIPP Indy College Prep Middle School, she said, don’t even realize the opportunities they have to enroll in programs like 21st Century Scholars, a high school program that helps students from low-income backgrounds earn a full ride to a state university or college.

Johnson, a college counselor, was one of eight educators and students who participated in last week’s story slam sponsored by Chalkbeat, Teachers Lounge Indy, WFYI Public Media and the Indianapolis Public Library.

Here’s an excerpt of her story about how she and her colleagues are working to encourage students to prepare for college — academically and financially. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity:

“This is a call to action. So part of my role at my school is to, one, help our 8th graders find their best fit school.

Another piece is to help our kiddos learn about college. If you walk through our hallways, you will see pennants, you will see flags — each homeroom is named after a university. Every single grade level, K-8, goes on a college field lesson every year. So college is everywhere.

When I started working at this school, I was a gym teacher and I loved it. I was an athlete all in college, and it was just a great opportunity to teach all the kiddos what I’d been learning about taking care of my body and working out.

About three years ago, four years ago, I started the position I have now. And one thing I’ve noticed — has anyone heard of 21st Century Scholars? — is only 30 percent of my eighth graders were leaving my school signed up. And I’m a 21st Century Scholar, and so my mission was to make sure that our babies were signed up.

So since I’ve been in this role, we’ve been signing up 90 percent of our eighth-graders to leave our school signed up for that program.

And so I thought about, OK, If I can get 90 percent of our families signed up for 21st Century Scholars, how else can I get our kiddos and families thinking about the cost of college early?”

Check out the video below to hear the rest of Johnson’s story, where she goes on to explain the new initiative her school is taking on and how it’s already changing how her students think about life after high school.

You can find more stories from educators, students and parents here.

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