Why finishing college matters for every Utah woman

HEBER — Throwing both hands into the air, 8-year-old Abby triumphantly shouts, “I’m SMART!”

“OK, let’s see what you got,” school counselor Lynette Schiess responds with a smile.

Abby’s blonde pig tails sway as she looks back and forth from her bingo card to Schiess: “Go to school on time, have a positive attitude, go back and check your answers,” she pauses to move a candy Smarties off the words underneath, “no one gets all the answers correct, and make sure you understand what the question is asking.”

And with that accurate bingo win, Abby gets her own “Crayons to College pencil” and the game continues.

Schiess spent years rotating through classes at J.R. Smith Elementary in Heber teaching college prep — and on a recent spring day it was Mrs. Janet Hopkins’ 3rd grade class where they played “Smarty Pants Bingo,” part of the “ABCs of Crayons to College and Career” program, which Schiess helped create.

The program is not unique in teaching soft skills, but the daily focus on college-readiness at the elementary school level is novel — talking about “when” kids go to college, a trade or technical school, not “if.”

“It’s the culture of (a) school,” says Schiess, who recently moved to a position with the Utah State Board of Education. “Kids who start planning early are more likely to go.”

Currently, Abby is leaning toward Brigham Young University, despite a heated and good-natured rivalry with her University-of-Utah-loving friends, and says she wants to be an animal control person some day.

If Abby follows a statistically common Utah trajectory, she’ll start college within a year of finishing high school — like roughly 60 percent of young women do — but she may never finish.

Utah educational attainment at the…

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