When you are working in schools, summers can be a difficult time to continue the progress you’ve made with the kids through out the year. You have limited access to the kids you’re trying to reach while they’re off with their family and friends, and you have limited resources as school buildings close or work with limited staff over the summer break. I’m Chelsea Clark, and this is my second and final summer serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA at Davenport University and my community partner the Challenge Scholars Family of Schools in the Grand Rapids Public School district. My goal this summer was to finish up my service with programming that would continue to prepare the students in the Challenge Scholars program for their future.
With this goal in mind, I began to read about how summer vacation affects my students. One thing I learned is that a student loses on average 2.6 months of math skills over break. Another thing is that while middle-income students usually see their reading skills grow over the summer break, lower-income students may lose 2 months or more of reading comprehension over the break. Finally, national benchmarks suggest that 40 percent of kids who regularly eat free or reduced price school meals also need access to summer meals if their nutritional needs are to be adequately met. With this knowledge in hand, Gwen Heatley, College and Career Coordinator at Harrison Park K-8 School, and I planned a summer curriculum that would keep our students engaged academically over the break.
We partnered with the Michigan Department of Education’s Meet up to Eat Up Program to bring in students. The Meet Up to Eat Up program provides free, nutritious breakfast and lunch four days a week to all youth under 18 years old. The meals brought in the students and we took advantage of that to keep students occupied with fun, academically challenging activities. After breakfast students were able to choose books that had been donated from the community to read during what we called a ‘Reading Oasis’. At the end students were able to bring the books home that they finished to share with their friends. After lunch, our curriculum focused on STEM subjects. Students played chess, gardened in the salsa garden provided by the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum, used chemistry to make slime, and used their engineering skills to win an egg drop competition. Four days a week students received two nutritious hot meals, two hours of academic engagement, books to share with their neighborhood friends, and fun times with new friends.
For educators and those who work in schools at all levels, it is important that summer is a time to catch your breath, relax, recharge, and prepare for the next year. However, it is also a vital time for our students to keep moving forward. Programs like Meet Up to Eat Up, provide an opportunity for us to reach students we might not otherwise have access to during the summer.
These two years as an AmeriCorps VISTA have been truly great, and I sincerely believe that work we have done as a cohort this past year has made a lasting difference in the lives of Michigan families. Thank you for allowing me to share my journey with you.
Hello again, it’s Chelsea from Grand Rapids, MI. This is my second year serving as the VISTA Volunteer Coordinator at Davenport University. Last year, I spent a lot of time establishing a partnership between Davenport University and the Challenge Scholar Program at Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS). This year the Challenge Scholar’s program is my focal community partner, and I’m so excited about the projects we have been able to complete so far.
To give you a little background, the Challenge Scholar Program aims to increase the number of first generation college-goers by providing a fee college education to students who successfully graduate from Union High School. The Program is funded by the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. As an example for this community’s need, 92% of Challenge Scholars come from economically disadvantaged families and in 2012, just 2% of Union High juniors were deemed college-ready based on ACT scores. I have been working with the college/career coordinators to help these students get ready to utilize their scholarship.
At Union High, we recently finished their first College Application Week. We worked with 153 graduating seniors at Union High School to make sure that 100% of the seniors have applied to at least one college or technical certificate program or enlisted in the United States military. Throughout the week, 113 students filled out 361 college applications, and out of the students that participated in the week, 69% will be First Generation college students and 59% are people of color. During college application week, we also organized the reading of college statistics over the school intercom, a college clothing spirit day, and a field trip to the DeVos Performance Hall for students that have applied to at least three colleges.
At Westwood Middle school, which feeds into Union High, I started a lunchtime speaker series for my 8th grade students. I am partnering with AmeriCorps HealthCorps Members to provide speakers from different health careers for the students. The speakers will talk about goal setting, perseverance, and preparing for college. During the inaugural speaker last Friday, 34 Eighth graders, 92% female, gave up their recess to learn more about health and science careers.
These larger projects are to supplement our all-grade college/career talks we do weekly with the Challenge Scholars. This gives us the opportunity to make sure every student has the information they need to succeed. The talks range from building your support system to good study habits to preparing for high school to resume writing. The first cohort of Challenge Scholars will graduate from Union High School in four years, and I’m enjoying being on the ground level of this major college access initiative at these GRPS schools.
Hello again everyone! Last time I wrote about being half way done with my Americorps VISTA service at Davenport University, but I recently decided to stay at Davenport and with the MNA VISTA program for a second year. I made this decision for a multitude of reasons, but one of the reasons that I kept coming back to is, I felt like I was just getting started. I need another year, at the same location, to really make the sustainable impact needed to grow Davenport University’s volunteer culture campus-wide, and increase the college access at the Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS). In this blog, I want to set myself some challenges for my second VISTA year, so that I make sure to make the most of it.
At the beginning of my VISTA term, I identified building a volunteer culture on Davenport’s campus as my top priority. I just finished putting together our campuses Community Service Honor Roll, which is a community service survey of all of our students. At DU’s Grand Rapids campus, 215 students out of 3,500 reported some level of community service with over 260 organizations this past year. I believe that one key to creating a culture of volunteerism is to simply increase the percentage of students volunteering. My goal is to reach 400 total students in the next year. Another key to creating a culture of volunteerism is to reach out to the students with volunteer projects that they want to join. The community service survey indicated, 87% of students think that an issue they care about is the most important reason for why they would choose to volunteer. The top three issues they identified were children, hunger, and health issues. Students indicated that volunteer events that are at a convenient time and are enjoyable activities are also very important attributes when deciding to volunteer. The students also indicated that factors like a graduation requirement, relation to their future career, and resume builders are their least important attributes when deciding to volunteer. I will use this knowledge to better reach out to students. In addition, I will focus on first year students, students that are a part of student groups, and students that are a part of sports teams. This will allow me to create smaller cultures of volunteerism in different parts of campus, which will hopefully spread with time.
My second priority at the beginning of my VISTA term was to increase college access to first-generation students in GRPS. This past year I did that through lunch time leadership classes at the GRPS high schools with an organization called GR Initiative for Leaders. However, this year I will be working throughout the school day with GRPS students developing the Challenge Scholar’s college access model. The Grand Rapids Community Foundation has raised enough money to offer all the West Side GRPS students a free college education, but that is only half the battle. In 2012, just 2% of these students were college ready based off of their ACT scores. However, 61% have the desire to pursue a post-secondary education. My role will to be to help coordinate the Challenge Scholar’s programming through the K-12 classrooms, so that students and their parents are hearing accurate and consistent information about post-secondary education. This is a new program and I’m so excited to help set up the framework for future efforts at GRPS. My goal is to utilize the relationships I built with the lunchtime leadership students to help create some meaningful college access programing for the students this next year.
Thank you all for taking the time to read my plans for my second VISTA year. I’m excited and energized to keep building towards these goals thanks in large part to the support system I know I have in all of you.
Hello. Chelsea Clark, here. I am a MNA VISTA serving at Davenport University and the Grand Rapids Initiative for Leaders (GRIL). In August, I was tasked with two things: creating a college going culture by supporting first-generation college students and to improve learning in low achieving schools. I am now half way through my VISTA year, so this is a great time to reflect on my progress toward these goals.
I am very excited with the progress I have made towards creating a college going culture. It began with weekly meetings with Gwen from Harrison Park Schools, discussing how to connect Davenport University with Harrison Park and has developed into monthly programs to improve the relationship and create a college going culture. In October, the Davenport Softball team went to Harrison Park to assist with the Friday gym classes. The Softball team was able to make connections with the elementary students, talk about the benefits of being involved in sports, and promote going to college. In December, the Davenport Cheerleading team went to Harrison Park for the inaugural College Club event. The cheerleaders helped the 7th graders write college admissions essays while the parents of the 7th graders listened to the University of Michigan alumni. Forty-six percent of Davenport University students are first-generation students and ninety percent of Harrison Park students are potential first generation college students. I believe strongly in the growing partnership between Davenport and Harrison because when you have first generation students helping potential first generation students get excited about college, you help to create a bond of solidarity between the two groups. Together they are helping each other to overcome the struggles of being a first-generation college student.
GRIL is where I have been really working on improving learning and success of students in low achieving schools. The start has been slow due to funding concerns, changes in the programing, and a large turnover of staff at Ottawa Hills High School. However, we are in both Grand Rapids Public high schools now, Union and Ottawa Hills, at least twice a week and will begin the School of Change Project soon. During the first six months, I assisted in teaching foundations of leadership to 25 students at Union High School and another 20 local students on Saturdays. The next six months, we will be challenging our students to pick an issue they care about in their school so that they can work to bring about a positive change. They will research this issue, develop an awareness campaign, and present to their teachers. For example, last year, the students worked on addressing bullying. I’m excited for the students to start putting their new leadership skills into action and make a difference in their learning community.
Six months in and six months left to go.
I think we (all of the MNA VISTAs) have made some strong progress in the meeting our goals so far this year, whether it be through new community partnerships, increasing the amount or quality of volunteer opportunities available in our host communities, or creating something new. Here at Davenport University, we will be moving forward with our partnership with Harrison Park, our annual Into the Streets Day Of Service in April, and the School of Change project at the high school.
Each blog post was written by one of our VISTAs!