January 2013 Live It! Project Report
Hannah Trostle, Rural Minnesota College Access: Northland High School, Remer, Minnesota
This project began with a phone call. I was homesick and stressed about my midterms. As a first- generation college student from a very rural part of northern Minnesota, I often feel two steps behind my peers in common aspects of college life and work:from asking for extensions on papers to understanding the housing system. I called home looking for some sort of guidance, only to hear stories of students who did not understand Financial Aid or who did not know how to apply to a four- year college. It is a common predicament, but understandable. Often it is hard enough to get students to finish high school on time, let alone go to college. Most of the college access programming happens at the community colleges almost an hour away. After talking with the Northland High School guidance counselor, members of the Upward Bound staff at Itasca Community College, and members of the U of M’s Ramp Up to Readiness program, I applied for the Live It! Fund to create a series of workshops around college access for the high school students.
I dove into the project without a clear sense of how to measure the successes and failures of the program. I thought comparing standardized tests or college matriculation data from before and after the program would work to judge a “successful program.” I thought that I should judge the worth of the program based off of how many students attended the workshops. The project was delayed at first as it was necessary to confirm with teachers when would be best to interrupt classes to speak with the juniors and seniors and introduce myself and the program. I distributed packets 11 pages thick to the students: afraid that in my workshops and conversations I might miss something critically important about college. I need not have worried so much. Within minutes of my first formal introduction to the students, I was bombarded with questions like “What is an RA?” “Where do we go if we are sick?” “Aren’t sororities evil?” “What’s the hardest class in college?” “What is work-study?” “Can you use Financial Aid for books?” A teacher even urged me to tell the students how to make friends at college because so many of the students had never moved before (continuing throughout each grade of school with the same friends from kindergarten). The grade was firmly divided into two groups: the ones who would barely make it through high school and the ones who would go to a community college. Sometimes it was frustrating to have to deal with such a rigid system. The former group did not see how the workshops would benefit them, the latter group was so focused on homework that they had no time for anything else.
I originally went in with the intention of having two separate types of programming: one for college, one for employment. After speaking with the students and the teachers, I realized that these sort of clear-cut distinctions would not be beneficial to the students. Unlike in high school, at college, distinctions are not as rigid as they are on paper. I created a sort of hybrid programming based off what students had asked the most about: time- management, choosing classes, resumes and scholarships, and types of colleges. The program quickly evolved. Northland High School gave me the whole conference room for an entire day so that students could remember where it was easily and drop-in for a quick visit between classes. The timing of the workshops themselves, however, were attended or (completely) mandatory classes. I began to reevaluate my assumptions when I had first defined what a success in the program would be: now it was not “a lot of students” but a “student who came consistently.”
There were times when I felt like the program was a failure, and just moments later my opinion changed as I helped a student discover how his abilities and experiences lent him particularly well towards a specific career or job. I got to know the students who came very well and show them some options that had never been discussed in their plans before like gap years and volunteer programs. The friendships, the mentorships, the relationships, I have formed with these students are amazing. From discussing race and ethnicity in their high school to sharing test-prep ideas, we began to trust each other. I moved away from my own rigid ideas of what constitutes a success and a failure. I began to really look at each student on an individual level and see how these workshops benefited them each day.
As a whole, the Live It! Fund process really helped me personally to understand my own thinking about success and failure and worth. So much has happened and changed. I loved Blogal Views and seeing how each project was evolving. It continually inspired me every day to continue improving the workshops, keeping in contact with the students when I was not at the high school. The Live It! Fund has been one of the most challenging and important experiences I have had at Macalester and I loved every minute of it.