by Kalie Ammons
Wabash County Promise is a program started by a partnership of the Y and the community to increase college attendance and end the cultural stigma of college being an impossible feat.
“It’s a real collaborative effort to make sure that every child has a trajectory, a plan. Whether it’s vocational school or a four-year degree, certification, technical training… Whatever it is, so when they graduate, they have a plan in place,” Amanda Jones-Layman, Director of Academic Engagement and Summer Learning Programs at the Y, told The Paper.
The Wabash County Promise will focus on children starting kindergarten follow them until they graduate high school.
“The focus group for this year is K-3rd grade. The idea that if you’re starting to talk about college in 11th grade, it’s too late to really do anything.”
The program is set up like this: starting during kindergarten registration, students open up a college savings account that they supply with $25 they raise on their own, after which local donors will match with $75. In fourth grade, the students will identify their dreams for the future. By sixth grade, all students will sign up for the 21st Century Scholars program. In ninth grade, they will sign a letter of intent to graduate. Finally, eleventh and twelfth grade will consist of filling out the FAFSA and applying for colleges.
“Once you plant that seed…if it dropped off at third grade and we stopped talking about it, it wouldn’t be the same. But really it’s going to be all throughout their career. It’s just starting the conversation earlier.”
Jones-Layman also explained the effect that this program will have on the Wabash community:
“Right now in Wabash County, only about 24 percent of adults have a college degree. It goes up to 26 percent if you include certifications. So to get from 26 percent to 60 percent, we realize that we have to act.
“We have a ton of partners to fund us. One of the cool things about having all these partners, especially the business partners, is that we are now engaged in conversations with them and with the schools about what kind of employees they are looking for. What kind of skill gap exists and how can we help students identify their passions and where those passions line up with the jobs available in the community.
“Just the fact that when you have a more educated workforce, companies from outside the community are more interested in bringing new jobs to the area. So this is really one of those things where it’s a cycle that feeds on itself. Once you have qualified people that are ready to be employed into the area, and once they see, ‘Oh, in Wabash they have this great workforce that is highly skilled,’ then that brings more money into the community and it feeds into itself.”
But why aren’t Wabash County students going to college? Most people would assume the downturn economy, however, Chris Sloan, Community Wellness Coordinator and Wabash County Promise Coordinator, believes differently.
“One of the big factors why kids don’t go to college is they lose hope. It’s not finances or all these different factors that people put out there, but it’s because they lose hope. So, to me, this collaboration, the Wabash County Promise, is about installing hope into kids’ lives and getting them used to college.”
To encourage students through this process, the program includes adults in the community that they call “Champions.”
“A Champion is, in a sense, an adult that can come by a child and help the with this process, maybe financially or through support and encouragement. It may be being a mentor to these kids. That’s what we look for, and with this piece, it goes beyond finances. We would like to build a connection. A mentorship, and to be by this child through the process. Help them find what they want to do with their lives and create that spark or a certain interest in a career and help them develop that,” Sloan said.
Community involvement is a major piece of the puzzle for the Promise. The Promise has been in contact with community religious leaders and will have another meeting on July 30 at Ugalde’s, which will be centered on the faith community.
“We are out there trying to get people engaged. And since it’s a pilot, it’s something we are creating; the community can be a part of this. They can help us create the vision. We’ve already had a lot of great questions come up at the socials have prodded us to look at the process and refine things.”
The hardest part for the managers of the program is trying to change the culture in Wabash that tells students they will not succeed. Jones-Layman explains the dynamic:
“Going back to the number of 24 percent with a college degree, and with this, it will mean there will be a huge percent of kids that will be the first in their family to go to a college. And the first visit will be a huge impact on them.
“Our goal for registration in the Promise is to move the number of kids with a college savings account from six percent (which is in every age from 0-18) to 50 percent. We set that goal knowing that we have the potential and the capacity to exceed it. Our goal up here high in the sky is to have at least 85 percent participate in the Promise. That would be a phenomenal leap in the right direction—changing the culture of the county.”
The Promise says it’s had more questions than criticisms. The community worries about the security of the savings accounts, wondering if parents will be able to access them and use the money for something other than education. However, the accounts are specifically set up so parents can only add money or use it for educational purposes. If the student hasn’t used the money by the time he or she turns 25, the amount given by community donors goes back into the Promise to help other students. But, the money the student and parents have added can be accessed at any time.
The Promise will be holding a walk on the Manchester University campus on Sept. 27, bringing about 1,700 students from three school districts and home schoolers on buses.
If interested in signing up, simply take your kindergartener to registration.
“There will be computers set up at registration events and it’s a station they have to stop at. It’s an online thing. It takes three minutes. They will have all the info they need since it is registration. Even if they aren’t signed up, they will go the 27th. …Anyone who wants to volunteer can contact the YMCA.”
The Promise stresses community involvement in Wabash’s youth. Anyone can be a Champion and affect the lives of someone lacking confidence.
Sloan installs hope by reminding The Paper, “Everybody has somebody.”
Wabash County Promise partners include: Metropolitan School District of Wabash County; Wabash City Schools; Manchester Community Schools; Manchester University; Wabash County YMCA—Administering Agency; Beauchamp & McSpadden Insurance Agency; Community Foundation of Wabash County; Economic Development Group of Wabash County; Halderman Farm Management; Kellam Construction, Inc.; Robert R. McCallen, III, Judge, Wabash Circuit Court; Wabash County Chamber of Commerce; Wabash County College Success Coalition; Wabash County Hospital Foundation; Wabash Marketplace, Inc.; The Big Goal Collaborative; CollegeChoice 529; Duke Energy Foundation; Indiana Education Savings Authority; Jim Banks, Indiana Senator; Parkview Health; Richard Mourdock, Indiana Treasurer of State and Upromise Investments.