Nearly 75 colleges, career schools, local businesses and military recruiters were waiting to greet students and their families at the fourth annual College and Career Night in the Lodi High School gym on Monday night.
"We want students to have informed choices instead of having to settle," said Odie Douglas, assistant superintendent of secondary education for Lodi Unified School District.
The event was organized by Lodi Unified officials and the college and career centers of Lodi, Tokay, McNair and Bear Creek high schools. Each year, the event rotates among these four campuses.
At 6:30 p.m. on Monday night, the parking lots of Lodi High School were filling up with cars packed with teenagers and their parents.
Tamara Slatten, an English and AVID teacher, was impressed at the crowd waiting for the doors to open.
"It was amazing. This whole area was filled," she said, gesturing at the fenced-in courtyard at the gym's entrance.
Students in the Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID, program at Lodi High earned community service hours by managing the parking lots, welcoming vendors and guests, and cleaning up the gym after the crowds went home.
Inside the gym, four rows of tables with college representatives were barely visible in the crush of college-bound kids and their curious parents.
Tricia Stallings is the mother of Sami Stallings, a junior at Lodi High School, and another younger daughter. This is her first time wading through the college application process.
"There're so many people, it's hard to get to the tables," she said.
Her technique involved snatching whatever pamphlets she could reach off of vendors' tables, then taking another look to see if the college caught her daughter's eye. So far, that included Azusa Pacific University, Sonoma State University, California State University, Fresno, CSU Sacramento and the University of Notre Dame.
Siblings Erica and Pedro Madera had two goals in mind. Erica wanted to find a nursing program she could tranfer into after finishing up at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton. Pedro, a freshman at Benjamin Holt High School, wanted to see a range of different schools, though his heart is set on an engineering program.
Savannah Perkins, a senior at Tokay High School, knew precisely what she was looking for.
"My first question is to find out if they offer a nursing program," said Perkins. She hopes to find a school that lets her dive right into a nursing program without having to wait a year or two.
California State University and University of California campuses, along with some out-of-state and private colleges, stopped in Lodi as part of thier annual college circuit.
"It gives students exposure to colleges they may never have heard of before," said Becky Jauregui, Lodi High School's college and career adviser. "Students need to start evaluating all of their options, instead of looking at just one."
Lodi Unified officials also invited local businesses and career schools to offer a full range of information to students and their families. Overall, the district spent less than $2,000 on rented chairs for the evening and refreshments for the vendors.
The event was geared toward seventhto 12th-grade students and their families, though it was open to the public.
Schools across the district got into the act. Some offered incentives for their students to attend the fair, such as extra credit or drawings for school spirit prizes. A few classrooms adopted a university name. Others organized scavenger hunts to encourage students to move all around the fair and ask questions of the colleges and businesses present.
Applying to colleges and for scholarships requires a whole different kind of literacy, according to Douglas. First-generation college students and their families can ready themselves by taking advantage of the information offered, he said.
Ideally, by the time a student reaches the college application season, he or she has had continual exposure to a range of college and career oppotunities. "We want to continue to impart on students that their education doesn't stop here at high school," said Douglas.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.