Case Study Week 2

Case Study Week 2: High Expectations or Unrealistic Goals?

Ms. Sutter was in the middle of her first year teaching sixth grade at Pinewood Elementary School when she decided to form an after-school club for students who could become the first people in their families to attend college. She came to see a need for such a group as she noticed that many of her students lacked knowledge about postsecondary education. Although many of their parents encouraged them to think about college, her students did not have the same opportunities as some of their peers to see a college campus or hear about higher education options.

The school was located close to several colleges and even a world-renowned university, but only a few of Ms. Sutter’s students saw those institutions’ potential relevance to their own futures. Ms. Sutter, on the other hand, had fond memories of the friendly rivalry between her parents when they discussed their alma maters.  At an early age she understood that there was no question about whether she would pursue higher education; rather, the question was where she would earn her degree.

Ms. Sutter proposed the new club at a staff meeting. Some teachers thought it was unnecessary, but several others were excited and offered their support. A major point of discussion was the club’s grade range. Should it be open to all students from kindergarten through sixth grade or limited to higher grade levels?

Ms. Bates, a second grade teacher, commented, “Experience tells me that sixth grade is too early to start talking to these kids about college. It’s way over their heads.”

Another teacher, Ms. Clark, added, “Families in our school will enroll their children in any free after-school program just to keep them busy. You’ll be swamped and end up spending more time on discipline than on college. Limit it to sixth graders.” Many teachers nodded in agreement. Ms. Sutter listened carefully to the suggestions and although she disagreed with her peers’ opinions, she reluctantly agreed to offer the club exclusively to sixth graders.

Several months later, Ms. Sutter paused during her “College Club” meeting to marvel at how well it was going. Over half of the sixth graders attended regularly. Many parents and guardians would arrive before pick-up time to join the lively discussions about college life. The students even created a map, which was hung in the front office, showing all the colleges and universities that the school’s teachers had attended. It seemed everybody was impressed with the students’ enthusiasm and willingness to do additional work.

As a year-end celebration for club members, Ms. Sutter scheduled a Saturday field trip to the renowned local university, which would include a guided tour and lunch. When they arrived on campus she asked the students to wait outside the admissions office while she went in to notify the receptionist that the group had arrived. Because it was a weekend, the office was crowded with high school students their families, all awaiting their tours. After speaking with the receptionist Ms. Sutter was shocked to learn that their assigned tour guide had called in sick and that, as a result, her group would need to conduct a self-guided tour.

“But I didn’t even attend this university! I can’t give them an adequate tour. Why not just let us join another group?” she implored.

“I’m sorry but our guides are prioritized for the high school students,” the receptionist responded. As Ms. Sutter continued to plead the club’s case, she was approached by the director of admissions, Mr. Stein.

“Can I help you?” he asked warmly.

“Yes, thank you!” responded Ms. Sutter, hopefully that he would secure a tour guide for the group. “I have a group of sixth graders here, potential first-generation college students,” she said, before explaining the purpose of the club and how excited the students were about the tour.

Mr. Stein looked around the crowded room and asked Ms. Sutter to step into his office. Wonderful! Though Ms. Sutter. Maybe he’ll be the person who gives us a tour.  

Instead Mr. Stein said, “I’m sorry that tour guide is unavailable. We do our best to avoid these situations, but I have students waiting in the other room who are credible applicants. Unfortunately, I can’t compromise their interest by prioritizing sixth graders ahead of them.” He paused briefly before adding, “Frankly, I worry that you’re getting your students excited about a place they probably will never be able to attend. Perhaps you should be touring a community college or trade school.”  

With this, he opened his office door inviting Ms. Sutter to leave so that he could attend to the families in the lobby. Ms. Sutter glanced through a window and saw her students waiting patiently for their tour. She fought back tears as she contemplated what to tell them and how to address Mr. Stein’s prejudiced comments.


What advice would you have given Ms. Sutter when she was deciding which students should be permitted to participate in the club? 

Ms. Sutter heard from multiple people, including Mr. Stein, that it was unnecessary to discuss post-secondary options with her students. To what extent, if at all, do you agree with this sentiment? 

Mr. Stein expressed his concern about Ms. Sutter creating false excitement about a prestigious university. How would you have responded to Mr. Stein’s comments?