College Signing Day spotlight expands beyond scope of athletics
DALTON — After spending a day shadowing her former teacher at Kittredge Elementary School, Madelyn Wendling told her principal that she "left in tears, because everything felt so right."
On Thursday, Wendling was one of seven seniors from Wahconah Regional High School to sign a letter of intent during the school's and state's inaugural "Future Teacher Signing Day." Wendling, for the record, is heading to Endicott College.
The other signatories included Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts-bound Hannah Perault; Grace Moriarty, who will head to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst; and Sydney Andrews, Holden Nelson, Madison Noyes and Hannah Robins, who have all committed to Westfield State University.
While about a dozen of the 145 seniors at Wahconah are planning to study in the field of education, some chose not to participate in the signing event. Guidance counselor Cathy Grady said some students felt a little awkward being in the signing-day spotlight that has long been exclusive to college-bound student athletes.
But this trend is changing. Each year, more and more students are participating in National College Decision Day, letter of intent signing ceremonies for nonathletes, vocational students and career-bound graduates, and other occasions marking the next momentous steps for graduating high school seniors.
"Quite frankly, it is a big deal and we want to make it a big deal," Wahconah Principal Aaron Robb said of Future Teacher Signing Day.
Wendling and Robins say they fully endorse the expanding bandwagon.
"I think this is so amazing," said Wendling of the Future Teacher Signing Day event, which included praise and citations delivered by Robb, district Superintendent Laurie Casna, state Rep. Paul Mark, and legislative district aide Alfred "A.J." Enchill Jr., representing state Sen. Adam Hinds.
"You have to be a certain kind of person to do teaching, and I think this group of people are the ones who need to be in the profession," Wendling said of her classmates.
She plans on becoming an elementary school teacher in "the district that raised me" with a focus in special education.
Andrews will study music education. Moriarty wants to teach history. Nelson was inspired by his own high school chemistry teacher to follow the same path. Noyes would like to teach science in secondary education, while Perault hopes to teach at the elementary school level.
"You're doing good in the world, and people see true change in education," said Robins, who plans to work in the special education field.
Honoring four years of hard work
At Lenox Memorial Middle and High School, Senior Class President Jimmy Jay Chassi gathered interested fellow seniors for a group photo on National College Decision Day, May 1, the date by which students traditionally declare which college or university they will attend. Those who could wore apparel branded by their future school. Realizing that celebrating only students going to college could be exclusive, Chassi said that students who aren't college-bound were invited to wear apparel representing their future careers or Gap logos to indicate taking a "gap year" off.
"For seniors, it's been four years of a lot," said Chassi, of why he wanted his classmates to document the moment together.
Lenox Assistant Principal Brian Cogswell said the guidance department in recent years, as well as other faculty, have been doing more to expose students to different college and career options and to have discussions "about how to figure out what your next steps are and keep yourself moving."
This fall, members of the Lenox Class of 2019 will remain as close as MCLA and travel as far as Chassi, who has committed to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles to study business and political science.
His classmates Phoebe Carry, Julie Pehler and Maggie Sorrentino also weighed in on the college and career decision process and why it's a big deal not only for seniors, but for the teachers and families who helped them get to this point in life as well.
"It's exciting to know that kids are going to all different kinds of schools," said Carry, who plans to study music and the humanities at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn.
"Especially because the process is now so competitive," said Sorrentino, who's heading to the University of Vermont to study elementary education.
But the students said the competition for admissions didn't translate into competition between students. Instead, they said, discussing the process together helped them find support in one another.
"It's a vulnerable process, but when you go through it together, even if you get a rejection letter, you can bond over it," Carry said.
"It gives you a lot of support knowing that you have other people to talk with," said Pehler, who will attend the UMass-Amherst honors program with an interest in getting a nursing degree.
Whether it's celebrating Decision Day or participating in some kind of signing day, Chassi said honoring these milestones can be inspirational, both to current seniors and future seniors in the school.
"We're setting an example to younger students to emphasize the idea that nothing's impossible. If you have a dream to go somewhere or do something, it never hurts to apply," he said.
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