I started canvassing last week and have had some excellent conversations with voters. Voters I’ve spoken to overwhelmingly agree that we need stronger college and career planning earlier.

I worked in education administration for several years before moving abroad. In that time, I learned how important it was to have high quality programming starting in middle school for students to explore careers – this is where students truly begin to develop their interests. Moreover, this is when they need to pick a high school that will help them get to their goals.

Research also showed that 9th grade on-track rates were among the most critical predictors of graduating high school and moving on to college or a career. So it’s clear we need to start earlier than 11th grade.

But college and career readiness starts even earlier than middle or high school. It starts with having well-supported kindergarten and elementary teachers and classrooms to teach the fundamentals – reading, writing, arithmetic (and science! and art! and music!) – but also allow students to play, discover, and create. Without leaving time for kids to play, we don’t allow children to develop their personalities and curiosity about the world.

I am eager to get more resources and partners into our schools to make play possible, to give teachers more time to prepare, and to develop our career exploration programs.