SESP group challenges youths to consider college

Shanika Gunaratna

In order to inspire middle schoolers who would not normally consider college, Promote 360, a group of School of Education and Social Policy students, organized a student visit day to Northwestern on Friday called “Empowering Young Minds.”

Eighty-five sixth-graders from Jane Addams School in Palatine and Lakewood Middle School in Carpentersville, which have large minority populations, participated in the event. Promote 360 co-sponsored the day with Northwestern Community Development Corps.

Promote 360 chose to bring sixth-graders because they wanted to instill an awareness of higher education in the students as early as possible, said group member Alexandra Sims, a SESP sophomore.

Founded last year, Promote 360 has undertaken various community-building initiatives adhering to its mission of “minority empowerment through education,” Sims said.

The group recently started a pen-pal program with the sixth-grade pupils of Jane Addams School. Group members attempt to subtly weave the subject of college into these correspondences, Sims said.

“The goal of the pen pal program was to keep encouraging education and keep encouraging college,” Sims said. “We of course answered their questions, but we’d bring up, ‘What’s your favorite subject in class?’ “

SESP sophomore Tabitha Bentley, president of Promote 360, had a pen pal who mentioned a desire to be a horse trainer; Bentley researched schools that had degrees in horse training and brought up these programs in her letters.

Members of Promote 360 began the day with a scavenger hunt, which doubled as a tour of campus and a way for the kids to casually explore the unfamiliar environment of college.

The group tried to acclimate the sixth-graders to college life through personal interactions with faculty and a “campus celebrity.” The pupils had lunch by the Lakefill with Willie the Wildcat and several SESP professors.

Afterward, head wrestling coach Tim Cysewski discussed the complexities of being both a student and an athlete. Cysewski emphasized time management as a key to success and a skill best learned at an early age.

At the end of the day, pupils were asked to brainstorm what they are looking forward to about college.

“We were trying to stress that there are multiple benefits of college,” Sims said.

In getting to know the middle schoolers, Promote 360 members said they were surprised by the pupils’ pointed questions.

“One young boy kept asking about chemistry,” said Sims, a social policy major who was at a loss for answers for him. “One little girl asked me if I’d taken any criminal justice classes because she’s interested in criminal justice.”

Bentley said she was struck by the middle schoolers’ innocent curiosity, fielding questions such as, “Are professors nice?”

“A lot of them probably wouldn’t get the opportunity to go and tour a college,” Bentley said. “Even though they’re really young and in sixth grade, I think they’ll remember this for a long time.”

SESP sophomore and Promote 360 member Jeremiah Tillman said the middle schoolers were “respectful and well-mannered.”

“I think our interactions with the kids were probably a once-in-a-lifetime event,” Tillman said. “We expect to do that to even greater measures next year.”

Organizers said Promote 360 is exploring whether they can make “Empowering Young Minds” an annual event. The group is also focused on expanding their efforts to as many SESP and NU students as possible.

“I’ve definitely seen a trend with a lot of minorities becoming more interested and transferring into the school,” Bentley said.

Tillman said he also sees the potential for the group’s growth.

“We’d like to make an impact on our society – we don’t want this to just be minority- and race-(based),” he said.

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