posted September 25, 2007

Project Will Benefit CASA and Upward Bound Students

A new effort at Hope College will focus on inspiring a brighter future for the local elementary-age and high school students participating in the Children's After School Achievement (CASA) and Upward Bound program at Hope.

The Michigan Campus Compact (MCC) has awarded a "Brighter Futures" grant to the college for activities to help the two programs place additional emphasis on overcoming obstacles to academic success and preparing the students to think about their futures. The $6,000 grant has been awarded to Dr. Deborah Sturtevant of the college's sociology and social work faculty through MCC's "Investing in College Futures Learn and Serve" program, and will provide support matched by Hope and the business community as students in the department develop the additional activities on CASA's and Upward Bound's behalf.

CASA, a community organization housed at Hope, focuses on academic and cultural enrichment for at-risk second-through fifth-grade students. The program, which runs year-round, is intended to improve the students' academic performance by providing the tools they need to succeed in school.

The students meet after school twice per week in one-on-one sessions with volunteer tutors, most of whom are Hope students, throughout the school year, and in the mornings during a six-week summer session. The academic-year and summer programs serve Holland and West Ottawa students. A total of 140 students participated in the 2006-07 school-year program.

Upward Bound seeks to generate the skills and motivation necessary for success in education beyond high school among students from low-income and first-generation families who have the potential to pursue a college education but may lack adequate preparation or support. The goal of the program is to increase the academic performance and motivational levels of eligible students so that they may complete secondary schooling and successfully pursue post-secondary educational programs.

During the school year the Upward Bound students come to campus twice per week to receive help in their high school subjects from Hope tutors and attend a variety of workshops and other enrichment events, and during a six-week summer residential program the students experience the academic and social world of college. Established in 1968, Upward Bound serves 75 students a year from the Holland, West Ottawa and Fennville school districts. Hope College Upward Bound is funded through the TRIO program of the U.S. Department of Education.

The expanded programming supported by the "Brighter Futures" grant will provide the CASA children with information concerning career possibilities and the way that education will support them in achieving their goals. The new programming will be created and run by students in Sturtevant's "Introduction to Social Welfare" class, with additional involvement by the high school students in the Upward Bound program also based at Hope and several others. A leadership role is being played by Hope senior Lisa Pusinelli, who is Sturtevant's student assistant and helped write the grant proposal in addition to serving as a tutor with CASA.

"CASA is an exciting, challenging program which has blessed me with the opportunity to connect with a child and build a positive relationship," said Pusinelli, a social work major from Western Springs, Ill. "The 'Brighter Futures' program exposes CASA students to options that they may not have dreamed possible, but our goal through the program is to inspire the students to dream bigger and shoot for future goals despite the many obstacles that stand in their way."

Through a "dare to dream" day, local minority leaders will speak about their background and experiences and their pathway to success. In conjunction with the day, the CASA students will team up with Hope student mentors to explore careers and develop career maps.

On "go to college days" the CASA students will be given additional exposure to the college environment. They and their mentors will attend mini-lectures delivered by members of the Hope faculty and take a tour of the campus through a scavenger hunt activity.

The Upward Bound students will participate in an event at the capitol in Lansing during a "civic engagement day." In anticipation of the event, they will write letters to present to legislators concerning their experiences in Upward Bound.

Michigan Campus Compact is a state-level, non-profit organization that promotes the education and commitment of Michigan college students to be civically engaged citizens, through creating and expanding academic, co-curricular and campus-wide opportunities for community service, service-learning and civic engagement. More than 40 Michigan colleges and universities are members of MCC.

The "Investing in College Futures Learn and Serve" program provides support for MCC member campuses that wish to partner with a community agency in order to benefit disadvantaged youth and positively reinforce the merits of higher education among current college students and disadvantage youth. The goal is also to strengthen the members' emphasis on service and service-learning while engaging the institutions in issues concerning disadvantaged youth.