Riding a bus back to Reynolds Middle School from the University of Portland, it wasnearly impossible for Vanessa Brooks to overlook the curiosity and enthusiasm radiating from one of her sixth-grade students.
Partially, because he made Brooks well aware of what was on his mind.
“He had so many questions on the way home,” says Brooks, the middle school program manager for “I Have a Dream” Oregon (IHAD), a nonprofit partner of Levé that helps underprivileged youth find success in college and career. Brooks accompanied three groups — each made up of approximately 20 sixth-grade students — to the University of Portland during January and February. On this particular trip, it was evident the time spent in the Shiley School of Engineering at the University of Portland had made an impact on one of the IHAD students, as he peppered Brooks with questions about engineering during the return bus ride.
“We talk so much about going to college, so they know it exists, but there’s a certain distance with the idea. The visit is something really tangible they can experience,” Brooks says. “It just clicked for him.”
Brooks points to that student as an example of why the college campus visits IHAD began this year are such an important component to the Dreamer programs now in place at Alder Elementary, H.B. Lee Middle School and Reynolds Middle School. Many of the students have no prior exposure to a college campus until they enter the Dreamer program, and standing inside one of its buildings can make attending the school as a student seem like a not-so-distant possibility.
“They start envisioning themselves going to college. They start asking ‘How can I pay for college?’ ‘What can I study?’ “ Brooks says.
Those are the questions Brooks wants to hear, and she says IHAD hopes to build on that curiosity and include a career-focused component to the visits next year. Currently the visits include a campus tour given by a college student, a question and answer session with a representative from the admissions department, and a student life type of activity — such as sitting in on a soccer practice or eating lunch in the dining hall. The student life activities show the Dreamers a side of college they previously might not have been aware of, Brooks says.
“It’s just a really great motivator for the kids,” she says.
With the sixth-grade and eighth-grade visits to the University of Portland and Linfield College already completed, Brooks had two seventh-grade trips to Pacific University scheduled for April.
Brooks is hoping — and ready — for the enthusiasm to grow.
Find out more about “I Have a Dream” Oregon and its partnership with Levé.