Coupled with AmeriCorp, a program built on assisting fellow people across America, Pierce College students have started working with disadvantaged youth at Ridgecrest Elementary School in Puyallup.
Students will be acting as role models for the students. The plan is to show youth what college is like, how to get there and that it’s accessible, regardless of socioeconomic status.
“We do that through college access,” Sarah McDaniel, college access corp coordinator said. “We intervene on normal school activity and provide maybe what the school isn’t when it comes to preparing for college.”
McDaniel is contracted through AmeriCorp to Pierce College and is organizing this volunteer opportunity. According to McDaniel, the program focuses strongly on economically disadvantaged youth.
“We either work with schools that are at least 50 percent or more of their student population on free or reduced lunch, or if the school is maybe only 25 percent free or reduced lunch, then the population I work with has to be at least 50 percent or more,” McDaniel said. “For instance, if I’m given 50 kids, at least 25 of them have to be on free/reduced lunch.”
While some might think that the coaches for these students would have to be sublime examples, McDaniel said that there’s only one requirement she was looking for: be a current Pierce College student.
“Already, you’re kind of like a perfect role model of an expert to these kids,” McDaniel said. “The idea with economically disadvantaged youth is that, usually, it’s because one or both of their parents didn’t go to college so they’re already disadvantaged and they’re considered first generation, so they don’t have someone to talk to college about. Providing someone who is going through that right now is perfect for them.”
GPA and programs are not considered; different backgrounds are a part of being human and could help the youth connect to the coaches.
“The more fallible someone is, (the more of) the perfect role model they are,” McDaniel said. “The idea is to see them (the youth) being a future college student, and the more human that they can see college students now, the more they can envision themselves that way later.”
One such coach is student Merrydian Passi.
Passi’s aim with working in the program is to help youth realize college as a possibility and to be encouraged in the idea.
“Growing up without anybody encouraging me to go to college, coming here and seeing stuff that I’ve done and accomplishments that I’ve achieved, I want to go out there and tell those young kids that have no hope to keep on trying,” Passi said. “There’s always a way to be in college, to finish college and that’s why I wanted to join this program.”
Passi believes that students can always find a way to go college; it’s simply a matter of finding the right avenue. She hopes to see the youth she works with gain knowledge about college and to progress not just during their time with her, but beyond that into their futures.
While she is helping the youth grow, learn and develop, Passi believes she’ll also grow in her own life, through learning people skills that will lead her into her future career.
Another student like Passi is Laura Richardson.
Richardson, along with being a student, also works in the computer labs at Pierce. She expressed various reasons for getting involved.
“I saw the posters and I just wanted to get more involved in campus this year,” Richardson said. “Also, I know that it can help strengthen my application.”
Richardson had a similar experience to Passi when she was young. It took her two years after high school to get into college and she attributes part of that to not having been encouraged to go by the adults around her.
Richardson hopes to encourage the youth like she never was, building a desire for a knowledge and excitement for the years of education before them.
On a personal level, Richardson is looking to broaden her spectrum of personalities by talking with various types of people and learning to put herself out there.
Richardson wants to have a career either in social work or with people who are disadvantaged. She believes that this program will help her get closer to that.
“That’s my goal,” Richardson said. “That will be one of the first projects within that direction I can start going on.”
Volunteers will be going out every Friday and spend an hour with the Ridgecrest Elementary students.
“There’s 15, 20 minutes of just hanging out with them during their lunch, talking about what’s going on with them in their school life,” McDaniel said. “If they’re comfortable enough, it can be friends life, personal life.”
After spending personal time with the youth, the volunteers will do college based activities with the students during their recess.
“They’re either going to be doing interactive websites that will help them learn more about college (or) they’ll be doing activities and talking amongst their coaches,” McDaniel said. “A typical college student should expect to be able to sit down and talk with a Ridgecrest fifth or sixth grader, have fun with them out on recess (and) during their lunch, and guide them through any questions that an elementary schooler might have.”
McDaniel said that one of the only responsibilities volunteers have is, if she needs to step away from leadership position for a minute, they need to take her place and lead. Volunteers also need to be able to communicate effectively, considering they will be working with anywhere from one to three students. The final responsibility is creativity; finding various ways to show students what college looks like.
“Sometimes, the best way to understand something yourself is to be able to teach it to someone,” McDaniel said. “Someone who is at a younger age who doesn’t have any preconception about college.”
The opportunity is only a total of two hours a week; one for training and one for going out to the elementary school. If students want to be a part of the program, they’re required to attend both.
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