If you’re trying to get kids into college, you’re best advised to encourage them from an early age.
It also wouldn’t hurt to requisition someone with a deep understanding of the challenges facing the Verde Valley’s youth — the places where a child may stumble, the roadblocks placed in his or her way.
Enter Erin Mabery, executive director at Buena Vista Children’s Services and the head of the Verde Valley Forum for Public Affairs’ effort to foster a college-going culture, informally called Cradle to College, in the Verde Valley and Sedona.
“My maternal family owned and operated child care facilities and came from very deep educational backgrounds, where most of the adults I grew up with were teachers or administrators,” said Mabery, a Cottonwood native. “My grandfather was one of the founders of the Yavapai College Verde Valley Campus and my father has served on various boards for the college for many years.”
Mabery added that her entire family has a “passion for wanting to see the Verde thrive and grow.” For her, that passion translated to early childhood education — a discipline she believes translates directly to creating a local college-going culture.
“[W]ithout a positive, developmentally appropriate educational experiences it is unlikely that a child will pursue post-secondary education,” Mabery said. “My mission has been to create positive opportunities early on in the game, to help solidify the chances for a child’s successes later in life.”
Mabery said that the 2016 Verde Valley Forum for Public Affairs, which took place last September, appeared to focus mostly on college because of the “tension of the current events at the time” — an allusion to negative perceptions of Yavapai College’s commitment in the Verde Valley — but the intent was never to exclude trade schools and other post-secondary options.
“I think the focus of the [college-going culture effort] was more about changing the idea in the Verde that high school graduation from being the be-all end-all goal,” Mabery said. “Currently, our culture is that if you don’t come from a very supportive family or background, it is highly unlikely you will attain any post-secondary education, college, trade school or otherwise.
“Sadly, that is a very high percentage of our kids in our community.”
According to Mabery, one of the greatest but most worthwhile challenges for parents, schools and education advocates will be to introduce a new type of “self talk” to the discussion — one that admits hurdles but also strives to educate children and foster a sense of excitement about moving into young adulthood and beyond.
“Right now, Buena Vista Children’s Services is working closely with many community members including Expect More Arizona,” Mabery said. “Yuma County has actually taken on this same type challenge, to change the culture to a cradle-to-career culture. I have been in contact with them and along with Expect More we are now seeking supporters in the business and leadership communities to form a culture-changing steering committee.”
In February, Buena Vista celebrated its twenty-third annual Early Childhood Education Conference, hosted by Yavapai College. The organization is also gearing up for its 24 annual Children’s Celebration, hosted at Mingus Union High School on Saturday, April 22.
“The major hurdle I foresee is simply changing minds,” Mabery said.
In addition to Mabery, other forum leads are working on building better relationships with post-secondary education providers and promoting post-secondary education in the county’s more remote communities.
“These groups have gained important traction,” Lisa Hirsch, the forum’s participant selection committee chairwoman, said. “We just want people to be sure there is more happening to that end as far as follow through and how to get involved in these positive efforts.”
Those interested in contributing to their resources to help create a college-going culture in the Verde Valley may contact Mabery at email@example.com or call Buena Vista at (928) 646-5200.
For more information on the forum, visit vvforum.org.