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Lt. Gov. Simon welcomes third graders back to school 

 
Urges future Class of 2025 to aim for college

SPRINGFIELD – August 22, 2011. Lt. Governor Sheila Simon welcomed third grade students back to school at three Central Illinois elementary schools today, pledging to fight for education reforms that will help them become the future college Class of 2025.  

“Never doubt that if you work hard all the way through high school, you can go to college,” Lt. Governor Simon told the third graders, before leading them in songs on her banjo. “A college education can open the door to your dreams.”  

As the Governor’s point person on education reform, Simon has embarked on a statewide Complete College tour this year, visiting dozens of community colleges and addressing lawmakers, school leaders and teachers, urging them to make data-driven, student-centered reforms that could lead to higher graduation and completion rates.  

Illinois leaders want 60 percent of all working-age adults to hold a college degree or certificate by 2025, up from about 40 percent today. In order to reach this goal, Illinois’ postsecondary institutions must increase the number of graduates statewide by 4,400 students each year, for a total of 600,000 additional graduates by 2025, according to the state’s 2010 Complete College America self-assessment report.  

“We’ve taken great strides in reforming our education system, but our work is not done until we can maximize every student’s growth and provide all Illinois children with a quality education,” Simon said. “A student’s pursuit of higher education should be bound only by their aspirations, not by background or financial need.”  

Simon’s first stop was at Feitshans Academy, a fine-arts magnet school that features a variety of art, choir and music clubs in Springfield School District 186. To provide a solid foundation for math skills that hamper so many students’ college experiences, Feitshans recently implemented a new curriculum that uses interactive and visual learning strategies, including games and videos, to engage students. It also stresses parent involvement, allowing parents to provide support with nightly math assignments via the internet.  

"This is going to be a great school year. We are especially encouraged by the message Lt. Governor Simon brought to Feitshans today," said Feitshans Academy Principal Reiko Hurd. "It is never too early for our students to think about the future. What better time than the first day of school?"  

At her second stop, Simon visited Peoria’s oldest elementary school, Irving Primary, and introduced students to four alumni who are entering college this fall to show them an example of success. Andrew Jordan, Porsha Broadwater, Donald Johnson and Crystal Mason each received $1,000 scholarship from the community-based Can Do program for continuing their education.  

“I look at my future and I wanted to be different than my friends and go to college,” Jordan told the students. “On TV and in the movies, everyone goes to college and good things happen to them. I want to have that life.”  

Simon ended her school day at Oakland Elementary School in Bloomington, where all students and staff participate in a Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support (PBIS) program to encourage positive academic and social behavior that will help students stay in school through high school and beyond. Students aim to “fill each others’ bucket” – or help and support each other – by following the school’s oath to act respectfully, responsibly and safely. Its reputation for positive behavior and above average test scores has made Oakland a top school within the district and leader in student achievement.  

“Promoting the college vision and belief at an early age that our children will attend college will help build confidence and a shared vision of the future,” said Oakland Principal Mary Kay Scharf.  

Simon is working with the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) and Illinois Community College Board to fix the “leaky education pipeline” that loses students at key transitions along the way to a college degree or certificate. Linking high school juniors and seniors to college courses and easing the transition from community college to four-year universities are keys to improving completion rates.  

“I applaud Lt. Governor Simon for planting a seed – that going to college is an important life goal – with our state’s third graders,” said George Reid, executive director of IBHE, who accompanied Simon at the visits. “It is critical that we encourage all our students to pursue education after high school to prepare them for the jobs of the future. I call upon parents and grandparents of all third graders to join Lt. Governor Simon in offering their children the same encouragement and support.”