Students in Smith County are falling behind when it comes to college preparedness.
Educators, business leaders and city officials gathered Thursday at The University of Texas at Tyler's Ornelas Activity Center to discuss practical ways to reverse the concerning trend.
The consensus among the group was clear - the problem has to be addressed early and be reinforced often as students advance through their education.
Tyler Area Partnership for Education hosted the education summit focusing on improving the area's lagging student academic outcomes.
TAP4E has taken on a mission to bring together leaders from every facet of the community to give students the best possible chances for success.
Smith County students have fallen behind in overall financial aid application completion rates, advanced or dual credit course enrollment and college entrance exam completion, according to the organization.
The summit featured speakers who lectured about connecting with students, actions administrators can take and innovative new ways to engage.
A community alignment panel discussed how each of the member communities can work together to bring about change.
During the panel, Tyler Junior College Provost Dr. Juan Mejia stressed the importance of having an early impact and encouraging students to remember their potential.
"I taught the same way with kindergarten as I did with doctorate students," Mejia said. "If something happens and they forget they can sing and dance, how do we make them remember that?"
Mejia said students need to be shown their potential from the first day they enter the classroom and be given a consistent message that they can succeed all the way through college.
"We started with adopting elementary schools," he said. "We went into any that would let us."
Mejia said TJC is committed to making sure students are being prepared for college long before they set foot on campus.
Bullard ISD Superintendent Todd Schneider reminded the audience that with changing demographics in public schools, it is vital that educators help bilingual students see the possibilities ahead of them.
Schneider shared a story about how he helped a student from a Spanish speaking household realize fluency in two languages is an asset he should take advantage of to better his future.
The business leaders on the panel discussed the growing opportunities in the area and the need for a skilled workforce.
"If people can't come to the workplace with the basic skill sets that allow them to learn new technologies, they're not going to get hired. That's the biggest challenge we face," Tom Mullins, president of the Tyler Economic Development Council, said. "(Businesses) really need to know they can find the people to help them be successful."
Later in the day, attendees spent time networking and discussing opportunities to find solutions in 2017.