MUSCATINE — Theresa Putnam Genz, passes out sheets of multi-colored paper to her Louisa-Muscatine high school students.
“Today we are going to form essay reading committees,” Putnam Genz said. “Last time we talked about what colleges might be looking for in essays. Now you have the chance to grade some yourselves ...Now remember, you decide the fate of your person."
With that they break into groups and settle down to work.
“The boy that wrote this loved talking about himself,” one student said.
“How do you know it was boy?”
“You can tell.”
“It wasn’t 600 words or less so I think though he did a great job telling what he learned in the essay, I feel that he went over the count too far.”
“That’s why I like this one,” said a student. “Short and sweet and to the point. And really, it’s inspiring. The other ones are just too long.”
Getting students ready for the process. That is how Putnam Genz describes it. Though she has been with Louisa-Muscatine for nine years, beginning this year, she splits her time between L-M, Columbus Junction, and Muscatine Community College.
At both high schools, Putnam Genz teaches a career and college readiness course, covering time management, financial aid, entrance essays and the like.The goal of the position is to give students the information they need to succeed.
“Our staff works really hard for these guys to know that they are important and valued,” Putnam Genz said. “That’s what we are doing in this class. Getting them the information they need that will get them along the way.”
The three institutions share the costs so each gains a career, college readiness counselor and someone to offer the readiness class.
Even though this is its inaugural year, Superintendent Mike Van Sickle of L&M Community School District is enthused about its potential.
“As far as we know, we are the only schools in the state trying something like this,” Sickle said. “With all three players involved in this, we really get to see how we can make this better for the students. I'm advertising with just as much gusto Columbus Junction and MCC. Because its a partnership.”
“Going into Columbus twice and (Muscatine Community College) once a week, I can see how much there is to appreciate across the three," Putnam Genz said. "I’m learning a lot just being in the building. I try to bring what they do at Columbus Junction back to (Louisa-Muscatine) and what I’ve seen work in (Louisa-Muscatine) to Columbus.”
For an active guidance counselor like Putnam Genz, she has gotten to experience how the transition from high school to post-secondary education can leave some behind.
She talks about how before the position, she had a student who had planned to attend college.
“He just didn’t quite get there,” Putnam Genz said. "I saw him at the end of the summer, and he was really upset because the path he thought he was going to take was not the way it was going.”
Putnam Genz quit what she was doing and talked it out with him. Together they worked on a plan.
“We redid his life plan in our heads,” Putnam Genz said. “He worked for a year and then we went on to MCC. He’s an incredible kid, and now he’s doing really well.”
Because high schools often have a well-defined support network, the transition to college can be difficult.
“I try to be the bridge, so if they get stuck or need something, they have a relationship already built. I can help them navigate the system so they can find the person they need to go to.”
“Sometimes life just gets in the way,” Putnam Genz said. “I have made a promise to them that wherever life takes them, I will be there. I’m hoping I can do the same as I learn to navigate kids at these schools.”