Official Blog of the Education Exchange Corps

Monday, September 15, 2014

College Readiness Program Coming to Ferguson

Kids were everywhere. Several 5-year-olds were chatting away while coloring at their tables on one side of a partition, many younger kids were sitting on a mat nearby doing some sort of loud reading activity, a line of second-graders marched right in front of me on the way either to the library book stacks or to the large-ish back room where a gazillion older kids and volunteers excitedly embraced the controlled chaos that was the Ferguson Library program.

In the midst of it all, as Governor Nixon came through and Captain Ron Johnson visited and a number of other celebrities shared a moment with the kids, an older gray-haired gentleman sauntered up to me as I was just dropping off a new kid to her group. "Here," he said. I expected to be given another kid to take to her class, or maybe another pack of donated food to place by the lunches. Instead, in this man's hand, was a gray t-shirt, emblazoned on the front with the phrase, "I [heart] Ferg."

The surprise knocked me out of my auto-logistics mode. Amongst all the excitement and attractive insanity of holding a makeshift school at a local library, this man's face was totally normal. I had met the man a few hours earlier in the morning when I was greeting kids and parents into the library. He asked me if I had gotten a Ferguson shirt yet. I said no. He disappeared. And now here he was. All he wanted to do was give me a shirt. Sometimes, the most memorable thank-yous don't ever make use of those two words.

I wrote about the great work the St. Louis community did in Ferguson at the library a few weeks ago (a lot, actually: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). We were fortunate and honored to be able to help.

But since the program ended, something has kept drawing me back. Something about that library, about the kids, about the volunteers, about the whole atmosphere was enchanting.

So we're coming back.

We will be working with the library, the school district, and whomever else wants to get involved to provide college readiness programming for kids and parents on Saturdays. We'll talk about kids' current perceptions of college, their dreams, and what they can do today to make sure they have options when they graduate from high school. We'll provide help with standardized testing preparation. And, as oft happens with such programs, we'll give kids another level of support: mentors to talk to as they go through the academic year and beyond.

Eventually, we plan to provide these college readiness workshops at multiple locations on the weekends, rotating from one site to the next to reach even more kids. Based on the six plus years I've been working with underserved kids in St. Louis, I can tell you that this kind of programming is desperately needed.

We're excited to start in Ferguson.

Over the past several weeks, many folks in St. Louis and around the country have been taking part in tough conversations. Some people feel deeply passionate about what Ferguson so starkly demonstrated to the world. Others don't know how to feel. Some believe that they don't have a right or a true ability to feel because, in part, they don't know how to contribute.

But, no matter how you feel, there are at least a few things most of us can agree with. One of those things is that kids today should have a real shot at charting their own futures, should have the support they need to have real opportunity. And you can give them that.

You don't need to be good at math or the ACT to help a kid. All you really have to do is listen. Too many kids today grow up thinking that their society does not value them and is not willing to care about them. You can change that.

You can change how a kid thinks about herself just by being there, by paying attention to her and the stories she wants to tell, by answering questions about what being an adult is like, what being in high school was like for you. This is what our kids need from you.

We've always looked for ways to get as many qualified volunteers involved in kids' educations as possible. That's why we are holding these workshops on the weekend. If you can, we're asking for just a little bit of your time. And that little bit will make a world of difference.

Years ago, when I was young and impressionable, I had a mentor tell me, "Just go change the world." He said it as an order, as matter-of-factly as a parent telling you to wash the dishes or take out the trash. No matter what life has thrown me, I keep finding ways to work with kids because I believe it is the best way to change the world. And maybe I'm paying my many mentors' service forward.

By working with kids, we can escape the politics that have plagued the adult world. Kids bring out the best in adults, and they bring adults who never knew each other before together under a common banner. I've seen volunteers make lasting friendships with those they serve and with those they serve with. These programs became a magical world of their own, generating experiences that make everyone involved better.

St. Louis, you want a way to heal the fissures that have torn our city apart? Come join us. Email me at

Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps

No comments :

Post a Comment