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Thursday, April 2, 2009

College Aspirations

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 On the surface, the YMCA may be about swimming pools and treadmills, but the mission driving the organization is built on a foundation of programs that meet the needs of the community. Sponsor-A-Scholar Milwaukee is a collective effort to help urban high-school students overcome the educational obstacles found in the inner city by offering academic, financial and personal assistance. The program connects motivated students from low-income families with committed mentors, financial sponsors and community resources to provide the crucial support needed to fulfill their dreams of attending college. Sheila Postotnik, Sponsor-A-Scholar’s senior director, talks to us about the program.

 How is Sponsor-A-Scholar different from other mentoring programs?

 We feel Sponsor-A-Scholar is a very unique pre-college experience because it goes far beyond the classroom. We have the whole package—giving kids free access to the Y, providing service learning opportunities, tutoring and hosting after-school clubs that these kids don’t have access to anymore because schools are downsizing.

 How do students join Sponsor-A-Scholar?

 We start recruiting in the eighth grade. This year we went to about 20 schools. We also visited the MPS Central Office, where we presented to all the guidance counselors. The students are usually recipients of free or reduced lunches, though we make some exceptions. We require the eighth-graders to have a 2.7 or higher grade point average and 90% or higher attendance at school. We’re also looking for individuals with good behavior and good character.

 Once students are in the program, what can they expect?

 During their first summer in Sponsor-A-Scholar they attend a three-week enrichment program and one week of camp before they start high school. We also take them on college tours to start them thinking like a college student. These programs are designed to start them off on the right foot for high school. When they’re in school, the students have to maintain a 2.5 GPA and attend tutoring if needed. They have to be on time to school and maintain at least 90% attendance. They also have to attend pre-college courses, monthly meetings and events. Every student has to participate in two service projects a year. And then of course we have them matched with a mentor, which is a key component of the program.

 How does one become a mentor?

 We want mentors with a college degree so they can show their student what it takes to get through college. Really, they need to have a willingness to give back… the willingness to get to know a teenager.

 What does a mentor have to do exactly?

 We ask that mentors get together with their student at least once a month—you might go out to eat or go to the movies. We also provide service projects and monthly activities that you can attend with your student. Along the way you’re teaching them life skills. A mentor is that extra coach, that extra advocate, that extra friend who wants nothing more than for them to go to college.

 What’s the role of a sponsor?

 Students who complete the program and go to college are awarded a $5,000 scholarship, which is dispersed in increments over the students’ college career. A sponsor is a company or organization or individual that provides those funds.

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