LEWISTON — A veteran School Committee member told Lewiston educators Monday night to stop using the word “college” when talking about student futures.
Ward 6 member Ronella Paradis told curriculum director Janice Plourde that too much emphasis was being placed on college.
Paradis was commenting on a proposed new teacher training plan when she asked Plourde, “why do we always say 'college'? That's another thing. Let's just say, 'after-school for lifetime learners.' Let's get away from college. Everybody doesn't go to college. Everybody's not ready for college."
Paradis told Plourde her son didn't graduate from college “yet he's making more money than I do.”
Plourde tried to respond to Paradis, but Paradis continued talking, saying she wants to see “after-school” language used to include those who want to become electricians, plumbers or policemen.
On Tuesday, Lewiston educators said they have no plan of backing away from using the word college. Some were puzzled by Paradis' comments.
Businessman Peter Geiger, who has long worked to boost aspirations in Lewiston and Maine, and who has donated thousands of dollars to help Lewiston students go to college, said he couldn't disagree with Paradis more.
“She's well intentioned but very misguided,” Geiger said Tuesday.
“We can't be afraid to use the college word in this town, especially our school board. It's a disservice not to use the college word,” he said.
“We have in this community an aspirations issue. We have to be the ones to think big.”
Whether students pick a two- or four-year college, “it's our job in education to think about what the child of today is going to need. The jobs of the future are going to require college. . . . They're not going to be making shoes in a mill.”
Plumbers, electricians and others also need higher educations, Geiger said. “Just because you're a policeman doesn't mean you don't need a college education. The more education you have the more opportunity you have.”
Lewiston High School Principal Gus LeBlanc said students are, and will continue to be, coached on the world of work, the military and college.
This year, Lewiston elementary schools introduced college to the youngest students yet — 4-year-old preschoolers.
Elementary school classrooms have “adopted” colleges and hang banners in or outside classrooms. At Montello Elementary School the words “After high school comes college” are written over doorways. Talk of college is constant, Montello Elementary School Principal Deb Goding and Longley Elementary School Principal Linda St. Andre said.
College can mean two years, four years or trade school, St. Andre said. With young students it's important to plant aspirations and use simple language. Using the word college makes it easy for them to grasp the subject, St. Andre said. It helps them cement the belief “that I'm going to be doing something college or college like.”
Reached Tuesday, Paradis backed off to some degree from points she made Monday.
She explained that when she hears the word “college,” she thinks of a four-year college and that can exclude “work experience. Going for plumbing with an associate degree” and other trades. “Some kids are not ready at age 18 to go to college. Let's get them ready for the real world.”
Paradis, a college graduate herself, is a public health nurse for the Maine Center for Disease Control. She said she's from “the generation of Lewiston workers where many did not go” to college. She's seen many people who did not go at all, or went later in life, and have done well.
Paradis said she doesn't want someone who doesn't go to college to feel like a failure. There are different paths to college, she said Tuesday.
She acknowledged that a two-year degree for trades like the ones she mentioned at the meeting Monday is college. All paths should be promoted in school, she said Tuesday.
“Sometimes I don't always explain myself well,” she said.