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!