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College preparation program stresses early start on road to degree

Wednesday, June 11, 2008 | 8:14 p.m. CDT; updated 11:22 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Middle school and high school students from Kansas City visited MU on Monday to participate in various leadership programs. The students came to MU as participants in the Kauffman Scholars Program, which helps underprivileged seventh- though 12th-graders prepare for college.

COLUMBIA — Beginning in seventh grade, students selected for an unusual program have a chance to get an early start on college. But the ultimate goal of Kauffman Scholars Inc. is not only to help students gain admission to higher education but to get a college degree.

About 60 Kauffman Scholars from inner Kansas City are touring MU this week, getting a look at options for their lives. MU is one of the campuses they will visit each summer from the seventh grade until they enter college.

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“It’s to give the scholars an opportunity to experience college both socially and academically,” said Tyrone Bates Jr., an academic coach for Kauffman Scholars, a program that pays for college for students from low-income families in Kansas City.

For MU, this is a chance to introduce the scholars to what the school has to offer.

“Our immediate goal is to offer access to careers in medicine and related fields through exposure,” said Alison Martin, who coordinated a five-day program for the 10th-graders called Hands on Health. “But the icing on top would be if they come to MU as an undergrad and then right on into the School of Medicine.”

Scholars will visit the YouZeum and learn about related medical fields like pharmacy. They will also hear a speech from Traci Wilson-Kleekamp, another Hands on Health coordinator, called “Passing the Torch: The Legacy of People of Color in Medicine.” Because the majority of the scholars are black or Hispanic, Kleekamp will talk about people of color who have broken ground in the medical world.

“Medicine is a profession of sacrifice, and there was also a lot of sacrifice to desegregate medicine, nursing and other professional fields — we sometimes take it for granted,” Wilson-Kleekamp said. “I’m hoping to pass it on that if you want it and you work hard, you can get there.”

Hands on Future, a three-day program for the eighth-graders that ended Wednesday, introduced the scholars to agriculture and engineering careers through activities such as examining bugs and participating in MU’s Lego Robotics camp.

It’s not just fun and games with the Kauffman Scholars, however; they take their academic careers seriously.

“They know it’s really important to stay on track, and a lot of them already know what major they want to be,” said Leslie Moore, a junior at MU and a Kauffman Scholars youth leader. “They were asking questions about what kind of majors we offered ... They just had it together, really.”

Ewing Marion Kauffman was a philanthropist and entrepreneur. According tothe Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation Web site, he agreed that if students met criteria such as maintaining satisfactory grade point averages and avoiding drugs and teenage pregnancy, Kauffman would pay for college. This program, established in 1988, was called Project Choice, and by the time it ended four years later almost 1,400 students in the greater Kansas City area benefited from it. After Kauffman’s death in 1993, Kauffman Scholars grew out of Project Choice.

“He wanted to use what he had to help kids who otherwise would not be able to go to college,” said Manomay Malathip, vice president of program management. “(Kauffman Scholars) is a 19-year, $70 million program. We are in our fifth year.”

Kauffman Scholars has the same criteria as Project Choice but with the added element of intense preparation. Once accepted in seventh grade, scholars undergo a rigorous process that includes classes twice a week in addition to regular class work.

Students are assigned three coaches: an academic coach, who assigns tutors and provides support; a life coach, who assists in the social development of life principles; and a college coach, who assists in college preparation, which includes applying to at least five schools and for financial aid and all of the scholarships for which they qualify.

Furthermore, scholars are required to take an ACT preparation course starting in the ninth grade, taught by a person from The Princeton Review.

Kauffman Scholars demands commitment from both scholars and their parents.

“It is absolutely important we have the support and involvement from our parents and other adults who have a positive influence on a scholar’s life,” Malathip said. “It does take a village to raise a child.”

Monthly workshops for parents are provided to teach ways to encourage learning in the home and make the most out of the minimal time they have, because most parents have full-time jobs.

Even when the students get to college, the Kauffman college coaches won’t relent. They will check up with the students on campuses to make sure they are taking advantage of the experience.

Right now, the program has 1,500 scholars, and Bates, the academic coach, said four juniors have graduated high school early and are accepted to college.

“I think any educator will tell you it’s always powerful to be able to take someone who would not ordinarily have an opportunity such as this and help them chart through it,” Bates said. “But also watching our young people grow ... and see college as a means to reach their goals in life — it’s phenomenal.”


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