New school year provides parents a golden opportunity to build future aspirations

A guest column which appeared in the Idaho Educational News and the Idaho Mountain Express on the importance and benefit of starting aspirational conversations with students at an earlier age.

Originally posted on on August 18, 2023

I’m not exaggerating when I say that the back-to-school season is one of my favorite times of the year. Teachers and administrators return with renewed energy, commitment, and passion. As a career educator, watching reinvigorated students return to classrooms, hallways and lunchrooms never failed to elicit the joy and hope that comes with fresh starts.

While I’m no longer an active teacher or administrator, I remain very much engaged with students and educators here in Idaho, particularly when it comes to inspiring students to see the connection between education and their future career goals and aspirations.

In so many ways, the start of the school year – when young minds are fresh and most open – is a perfect opportunity for parents and educators to begin having that conversation with students about their future. As teachers, parents and students set goals for the academic year, why not begin a dialogue that inspires students to broaden their vision five or ten years down the road?

This is the core mission of the High Desert College Collaborative (HDCC) that I helped found in 2020. In partnership with Sun Valley Community School, Boise State University, College of Southern Idaho, and IDeal – Idaho’s 529 education savings program – HDCC is collaborating with nine southern Idaho rural school districts to inspire young students to dream big about their education beyond high school.

We believe in starting young, with students in fourth through eighth grades. Many younger students have ideas about what they wish to be when they are older – whether it’s a plumber, electrician, rancher, veterinarian, or an architect. We not only introduce them to a broad range of post-secondary information, but we bring college student voices and experiences into the classrooms. We emphasize the various educational paths to reaching those careers, whether the route is through a four-year public university, two-year community college, or trades and technical certifications.

HDCC also offers a Promising Futures Aspirational Scholarship. Each year, we award $125 scholarships to students who have imagined and researched careers and the educational pathway to obtain them. Over the past three years, HDCC has awarded 430 student scholarships in our collaborative school districts.

The scholarship is also a critical component to motivating parents and students to pursue postsecondary education, and it speaks to our important relationship with IDeal.

Research shows that children with education savings accounts – even with small, monthly increments – are seven times more likely to pursue and complete education after high school.1 IDeal makes saving so easy and advantageous.

As the state’s sponsored education saving vehicle, IDeal’s 529s are eligible for a generous tax deduction of up to $6,000 for single filers and $12,000 per year for couples filing jointly. Account assets are managed by a professional investment firm and funds can be used in a variety of ways, from two-to-four year schools to registered apprenticeships and skills and career training programs. The correlation between savings and pursuing higher education is one of the reasons we encourage parents to use their $125 HDCC scholarship for opening an IDeal 529 account.

With the start of a new school year, we have another chance to begin or renew the conversation with our children and students to dream about their future in Idaho’s workforce. To me, there are few things more important to the future of our youngest generation, its impact on Idaho’s workforce and the long-term health of our communities.