Destination: Education IUK

by Todd Avery

For many junior high school students, college is a distinct possibility. For others, however, it is hardly more than a word, an improbable dream. Destination: Education IUK (D:E), run by Indiana University Kokomo, is an early intervention scholarship program devoted to transforming that dream into reality. D:E serves Kokomo-area seventh graders who have high academic potential but who face economic, social, or other barriers to academic and personal success, offering these students an emotional, intellectual, and financial support system that increases their chances for a brighter future.

The brainchild of Steve Daily, then vice chancellor of external relations at Indiana University Kokomo (IUK) and a former high school English teacher, D:E was founded in 1991. The inception involved a dozen seventh grade teachers from the Kokomo-Center School Corporation nominating eighteen students who, in their opinion, met a "high potential facing high odds" profile. Daily, who is currently executive dean of Ivy Tech State College, Kokomo, says the idea for D:E emerged from discussions with his wife, an elementary school teacher, about "how to get to children who are at risk at an early age and to help them overcome many, many barriers." They decided, Daily says, that "the best time for the university to intervene is when children are leaving junior high school and entering high school."

The program now has 102 students in grades 8Š12 from all five Howard County schools. Supported by local individual donors, businesses, and community organizations together with grants from the Kellogg and Howard Community Foundations, and involving IUK faculty and students, as well as community volunteers, D:E is a collective effort. It is, says D:E Coordinator Mary King, "a wonderful opportunity for people in the community to make a difference in the life of a promising young student."

Each spring, seventh grade teachers nominate potential D:E students. An advisory committee makes the final decision based on academic potential and the severity of the odds against each student's success. The twenty to twenty-five selected students enter the program during the summer following seventh grade and are offered "educational, social, occupational, and cultural activities to further enhance their abilities and secure their success in the future," according to D:E Assistant Coordinator Cyndi Fisher, an IUK student.

During the summer, IUK holds a "Discovery Week" during which D:E students take part in educational, cultural, and social activities both on and off campus. The overarching purpose of the week is to familiarize the students with college life. Howard County teachers and IUK faculty volunteer to teach minicourses with titles ranging from Mind Your Manners to Introduction to Russian. "We're not social workers," Fisher says. "What we want to do is involve the students in the university so that when they graduate they will have contacts and will be familiar with the college environment." Additionally, King says of her vision for D:E's future, "I can see us sponsoring more activities that are age- and grade levelŠappropriate, a majors fair for seniors, Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) preparation for sophomores and juniors, and high school preparation for eighth and ninth graders."

Following the initial summer session, D:E students are paired with volunteer adult mentors who maintain weekly contact with them during the next five years, assisting them throughout high school. "Adult mentors," says former D:E Coordinator Jessie Griffith-Critterton, "are crucial to the student's overall success." Daily concurs; "The mentoring is probably the most important part of the program," he says. One mentor explains that "D:E offers students an opportunity to expand their educational and social goals, and D:E offers me an opportunity to make a difference in a student's life in a very personal way." Besides the adult mentors, IUK student liaisons and high school peer facilitators provide encouragement to D:E students. Fisher, who is the ninth grade and eleventh grade liaison, says, "liaisons and mentors really play an important role. We are the link; we are the ones who find out what is happening in the students' lives. I've bonded with several of the students. I've even taken them with my husband to see Shakespeare in the park." Fisher, a psychology major, finds that her academic and D:E work are intimately entwined. "I apply what I'm learning from working with all different sorts of people," she says. "Everything you learn, you want to practice." It is a formula that, the D:E community believes, will apply to D:E students as well.

D:E provides a $2,000 scholarship, funded by community sponsors, either toward the student's first year at IUK, or, alternatively, if the student chooses to attend another college or university, toward IUK summer classes or college-level courses during the senior year. This fall, students from the first D:E class will begin their college careers. Fifteen of the original eighteen students remain active, and Fisher enthusiastically awaits the results. "This is the year of truth," she says. "We're still a pilot program. But if a third of the senior D:E class goes to college, then I think we will have done our job."

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