In my version of a throwback Thursday, I am publishing an article of mine from 2011. Although old, it is an article that I am still very proud of, both as a writer and as a recipient myself of the Kalamazoo Promise. I wanted to pull the article from my other more obscure blog and publish it here
A journalist. A geologist. A paleontologist. A lawyer. An entrepreneur. A dancer. These are all careers that Carrie Schultheiss’s fifth grade class at the Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary School in Kalamazoo, Mich. list as future careers.
This classroom of fifth graders chattered excitedly about how their career aspirations would be possible through the Kalamazoo Promise.
The Kalamazoo Promise, a scholarship program that offers up to 100 percent of tuition at any public university in Michigan, was announced in 2005 and provides Kalamazoo Public School students with a tuition free college education, for at least the next 13 years.
Between the 2005-06 to 2007-08 school years when the Kalamazoo Promise was announced, Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary School experienced an increased enrollment of 43.1 percent, according statistics from the Center for Educational Performance and Information.
As of 2009, the total enrollment at Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary school was 536 students and the Kalamazoo Public School system had a total enrollment of 12,100, with the number continuing to rise through the years, according to data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics from the U.S. Department of Education.
Administrators, teachers and parents, since the announcement of the Kalamazoo Promise, have been devising ways to motivate students to go to college. Kalamazoo Promise Evaluation updates from Western Michigan University highlight information about the Kalamazoo Promise and its continued effect on Kalamazoo and its students.
Getting to and especially through college is what is promoted each and every day at the Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary School, Carrie Schultheiss said. In her classroom, Schultheiss said that one significant thing that they do is talk with students about when they are going to go to college, not if they are going to college.
“We change how we talk about it, almost so that college is really just viewed as a continuation of high school, which a lot of parents don’t view it that way,” Schultheiss said.
The graduation rate in Kalamazoo Public Schools since the Kalamazoo Promise was announced has reached 70.73 percent in 2009, according to data from Center for Educational Performance and Information.
“Graduating high school is not only the goal, but also the milestone to reach college,” Schultheiss said.
The Kalamazoo Promise and college are not just discussed in the classroom, Schultheiss said. There are assemblies, speeches and guest speakers coming in constantly to speak to the students about the importance of college, Schultheiss said.
“I don’t think that there is a day that goes by that Carol Steiner, the principal of Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary School, doesn’t acknowledge the importance of a college education,” Schultheiss said.
The constant reminder of the importance of college for these students gives them an understanding of how the Kalamazoo Promise affects their lives and other students, Schultheiss said.
Above each classroom door posters hang telling the year that the students will graduate and enter college, and there is Promise Week, Schultheiss said.
Promise Week focuses on the importance of the Kalamazoo Promise in the students’ lives, Schultheiss said. Promise week provides not only activities, but guest speakers as well to illustrate how far the Kalamazoo Promise really reaches, Schultheiss said.
“I think that the Kalamazoo Promise is really good just in case people don’t have the money to go to college of they need some of their college money for other things,” said Daniel Elyea, a fifth-grader at Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary school.
Money often presents a problem when planning a college education for a child and the lack of funds can often inhibit the true potential of a student, said Jessika Bragg, parent of Kamron Bragg, a third grade Kalamazoo Promise recipient.
“I’ve often wondered what if Kamron wants to be a doctor. How in the world are we going to come up with the money to put him through 5 to 11 years of schooling?” Bragg said. “I think that it’s offering a lot of young adults the opportunity that most parents can’t afford.”
But parents of Kalamazoo Promise students aren’t under the impression that college will be cost free, Bragg said. She said that she is still continually putting money away for her child’s education in order to ensure him the most beneficial education.
The Kalamazoo Promise has helped so many students, families and the Kalamazoo community, and it means different things to different people, Schultheiss said. She said what is interesting is seeing how students think about their future in college and how parents react to the excitement in their child.
“I think that the Kalamazoo Promise is important because we can tell people who don’t know about it,” said De’Angelo Sanders, a fifth grader at Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary.
Patricia Williams, academic coordinator for Kalamazoo Promise Students at Western Michigan University, agreed that it is important for other people to be aware of the opportunity that the Kalamazoo Promise provides.
“I think that it is really important because as a result of the Kalamazoo Promise in the last five years there have been lots of other cities, states and organizations that have attempted to put something similar in place,” Williams said. “They don’t have the same thing but they are attempting to look at how they can help their particular population get through college.”
As the years pass by and young Kalamazoo Public School students work toward their graduation year, they still experience the fear of the unknown, Schultheiss said. As several students in Schultheiss’s class of fifth graders talked about their future careers, a number of them asked, “How can I go to college if I’m not smart enough?”
Today’s young people are the smartest that this world has ever seen, Williams said. It is all about knowing the steps to take to ensure that students reach their full potential in college, Williams said.
“I think that it has to do with their [students] lack of security and self-esteem,” Williams said. “I would say this is what you have to do: Work hard, ask for help when you feel like you don’t know what you need to know and follow up by talking to people who think that you are smart.”
As Schultheiss’s class of fifth graders think about their future careers and the college they will attend, they all gave one reason that they would be going to college.
“The Kalamazoo Promise made it possible,” Sanders said. “I’m going to Western Michigan University because of the Kalamazoo Promise.”