ALL SMILES: Manchester U. and Whitley Co. YMCA plant the ‘College Dream’ for first graders

Laura Deckena, a South Whitley Elementary student, smiles brightly and was excited for the dance party at Manchester University.
Staff Writer

The lawns of the Manchester University campus were filled with elementary students on a Friday in mid-September, each interacting with college students through games, songs and a multitude of other activities. Students were being introduced, some for the very first time, to the dream becoming a college student.

Age-appropriate activities ranged from playing with the MU baseball team to improv games with the drama department, and even water games “splashed” throughout the afternoon to keep cool in the hot sun. The event ended on a high note with the largest dance party ever held on the MU campus with the 3,000 children in attendance from area schools. Most activities intentionally engaged multiple senses in order to help generate excitement for the children about going to college.

Amanda Daniel represents the Whitley County Family YMCA. She is the Community Outreach Coordinator. Daniel along with a host of volunteers from both MU and the YMCA, as well as parents and teachers, all collaborated together to emphasize the importance of helping a child to realize the dream of going to college.

According to Daniel, the program “I am a Promise” believes a child will require financing, a dream and “an experience of college so children start getting excited about their dream,” in order to have a successful foundation that will ultimately lead them to attain higher education. Those three elements help make the dream real and tangible.
The way Daniel and her crew measure success is often found in the stories of the students who have attended the event in years past. One story Daniel shared included her boss’ daughter, Gabby Miller, who had attended the event the very first year. After the event, she found out that Daniel was revisiting MU to begin planning again for the next year, and when she heard that news she got very excited and said “Mom! You’re going to my college!” Daniel explained that Miller had taken ownership of the college dream. That’s the end goal. Miller’s experience had led her to understand that a college education was tangible.

Of those in attendance, the first grade classes from Pierceton Elementary and South Whitley Elementary School were at the event. Megan Downs, a first and second grade teacher at PES, shared that the event was really about starting the conversation in the home and with the students. “The over-arching purpose is to get kids excited about their future and that college is one way to fulfill their dreams.”

Downs commented that after the field trip, her class took some time for reflection by asking questions of the students such as:
•Who is interested in going to college some day?
•Is Manchester University the only college that exists?
•What colleges do you know about?
•Can you draw a picture of college?

“It’s a good starting point for the conversation so they know their options when they are ready to go to college,” said Downs.
In addition to attending a college campus visit in first grade, Daniel says, “the community foundation will make available the option to the schools for another college visit in the eighth grade, and every school has College Go Week. So they all have tools in which they can do something.”