Hammering down on college readiness

Fourth- and fifth-graders at Lackland City Elementary SchoolDoug Hammer practices what he preaches every day with his fourth- and fifth-grade students at Lackland City Elementary School in San Antonio, Texas: "All students have the opportunity to go to college if they work hard and start thinking about it early."

Despite their young ages, Hammer's students are already thinking about college.

"It's so important that all teachers emphasize college while students are in elementary school," said Hammer. "If teachers and faculty talk about their own colleges during their school's morning announcements and in class, kids have these expectations and standards set, telling them they need to attend college. We already have many kids who know they want to go to college, but we also have about 50 percent whose minds have changed from uninterested to interested."

Hammer, an Algona, Iowa native, decided to attend the University of Northern Iowa after hearing it was the best school in Iowa for preparing to become a teacher. Graduating in 1994, he double majored in early childhood and elementary education in the College of Education. Packing his bags and moving to Texas was a unique and life-changing experience for him, one he wouldn't change for anything.

While it is important to emphasize college to younger students, Hammer sees the value even more in his own school district. Hammer teaches in a district of approximately 100,000 students, many of whom are from low-income families and neighborhoods. He teaches in a school that has mostly free and reduced lunch programs. These are students who especially need to start thinking about college.

UNI flag"Students don't know what's out there for them, so we start talking about college so they can see the different options they have," said Hammer.

This large student population has a district-wide focus on college-readiness, called the AVID program. This program, used by all fourth- and fifth-grade teachers, helps students become more organized, responsible for their work and introduces them to future college options.

"This program helps students become more organized at school with binders and by writing agendas each day," said Hammer. "They take the agendas home so their parents can see their children's homework to make sure it's finished."

Lackland City Elementary School has a parent night where local university representatives come and talk about scholarships. Hammer said, "They talk about how easy it is to get scholarships and who qualifies, but they also say it is very competitive. Sometimes, colleges and universities go all the way back to fifth grade to look at transcripts."  It is all about getting kids thinking about college, and when better to start than at an early age?

Hammer hangs a UNI banner in his classroom to promote his alma mater, as well as hanging other schools' banners. He also gives his students UNI T-shirts. Many UNI teaching graduates have taught in Hammer's current school, and Hammer says UNI is well respected in his district.

He explains, "UNI has many opportunities for education students, with a heavy emphasis on observation time. I've heard time and time again that UNI teachers are better prepared coming out of college." And getting students college ready is a shining example of this.

"I wouldn't trade my job for anything," said Hammer.  "I know I have to work a little harder to get through to some of these kids, but it is well worth it to see the growth at the end of the year."


Students wear UNI T-shirts as they start thinking about college Other schools flags

Lackland City Elementary School fourth- and fifth-grade students wear UNI T-shirts given to them by their teacher, Doug Hammer, who has begun talking to them about college.

UNI graduate of '94 and current elementary teacher in San Antonio Texas, Doug Hammer hangs up many college's flags to get kids thinking and asking questions about college.