By Alison O’Brien, LEAP 2 College Program Coordinator
& Mara James, AmeriCorps*VISTA
During the 2011-2012 academic year, Edgewood College embarked on a new partnership with the Lussier Community Education Center (LCEC) in Madison. Over the last two years, the College and the LCEC have worked together to promote college access in the Madison community through the support of a Wisconsin Campus Compact AmeriCorps*VISTA grant. In order to better provide the youth at the LCEC with the opportunity to jump-start their journey toward college, the LEAP 2 College program was created.
LEAP 2 College is a college prep program for elementary and middle school students, grades 2-8. Participants in the program develop skills in leadership, education, arts, and play through exploration – the four components that make up the “LEAP” in LEAP 2 College. The program is based on UW-Madison’s PEOPLE Prep Program, which includes after-school tutoring and mentoring components. The program is supported by funding from the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation and made possible through the Wisconsin College Access Challenge Grant. Stephanie Smith, an AmeriCorps volunteer at the LCEC, says “LEAP gives the neighborhood youth a safe space to come together to get help on homework, discuss goals, and make plans for the future. Since the majority of youth in the program are ‘at-risk’ youth, LEAP 2 College provides consistent and positive academic support and mentorship benefitting the youth by increasing their networks of support.”
The Edgewood College community has embraced this opportunity to spread its commitment to community and justice through education. Ross Matters is a sophomore, majoring in Political Science and Economics. He volunteers with the program both as a tutor and a mentor. The Peshtigo, Wisconsin native says, “If you’re lucky enough to be here (at Edgewood College), you should be willing to give something back and help others to have the same opportunity. I think it’s important. Education opens up a lot of doors, so if you can teach kids from a young age that this is important, to get good grades, you want to be here later – that’s a big deal.”
Edgewood College students volunteer to work with students at the LCEC twice a week, offering homework help and academic enrichment activities. These tutors come from a variety of academic interest areas. As future teachers, nurses, and leaders, LEAP 2 College offers Edgewood College students the opportunity to develop skills for working with youth, developing professional skills, and building partnerships. LEAP 2 College offers volunteers a “dynamic environment where they get to try a bunch of different things out,” says Middle School Lead Tutor Autumn Slosser, a sophomore. She’s from Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, and is majoring in Spanish Education. “It’s really hard for students to see more of the community than just Edgewood College – really seeing all the diversity we have in Madison, culturally, socioeconomically,” she says. “It’s really important for educators to be pushed outside of their comfort zones and really meet students that have come from different places and have different life stories.”
In addition to more traditional tutoring, Edgewood College students volunteer to serve as mentors for the 21 young students enrolled in the program. These mentors act as pen pals over the year, and help introduce the young people to college life during Edgewood College Campus visits. One of those volunteer mentors is Mindy Risseeuw, a junior from Clinton, Wisconsin. She’s studying Math Education, and says it’s rewarding to see these younger kids get “so excited about being on campus and getting so excited about coming to school one day.” She hopes that this enthusiasm will keep the students moving forward on their path toward college.
This mix allows everyone who participates to learn something during each session. Emma Meinholz is a freshman from Middleton, Wisconsin. “It’s so fun to learn things from them because they teach you things, and you teach them things,” she says.
The community of learning created through LEAP 2 College certainly allows college students and LCEC students to take the next leap on their educational path, whether that’s preparing to enter the workforce after graduation from Edgewood College, or getting ready for high school and higher education. Autumn Slosser says it best: “Each of these kids has surprised me in so many ways by unveiling these beautiful talents they have, showing me that each student really has a gem that they need to show everyone.”