When Rose Wibbenmeyer was growing up in St. Louis, all her parents wanted was for her and her seven older siblings to graduate high school. Neither of her parents had an education beyond the eighth grade.
But Wibbenmeyer's childhood dream went much further: She planned on being a lawyer.
Wibbenmeyer graduated from the MU School of Law in 1994. Shortly thereafter, she passed the bar exam and began working for the state public defender's office. Over the course of seven years with the public defender's office, she worked in appeals, trial and capital divisions.
In 2001, Wibbenmeyer started working in the city of Columbia prosecutor's office. In 2010 she moved to the civil side and began her current position as assistant city counselor.
Wibbenmeyer used her connections in city government to start the Community Scholars partnership with Hickman High School. She discussed her motivation for creating a program to give at-risk students an opportunity to succeed with the Missourian. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Can you talk about the Community Scholars program?
What we wanted to do at the city is we wanted to take advantage of existing programs and targeted them to those kids most in need. So the state of Missouri has the A+ Scholarship Program. With the state of Missouri's A+ Scholarship Program, if you have a 2.5 GPA, you're a good citizen; you stay out of trouble with the law; you have to get a proficient or above on the algebra exam; and you have to do 50 hours of tutoring or mentoring, of which 25 percent can be job shadowing. If you do all those things, the state of Missouri will pay for two years of community college or trade school.
So it's a brilliant design. As a community, we want people to stay out of trouble with the law. We want them to be good citizens. We want them to have some sort of motivation to graduate high school and do at least you know, an associate's or trade school or at least jump start their college education, right.
So if we could take that and assist by setting up a program whereby we would take the kids most in need and jumpstart the A+ Scholarship Program through that job shadowing piece, and they could earn 12 1/2 hours of job shadowing as they're entering high school, they're more likely to finish the the rest of the 50 hours. And then more likely to keep their grades up, more likely to have good attendance, more likely to do all the things we want them to do more likely to graduate high school. So that was the theory.
What made you want to start the Community Scholars program?
I saw so many kids and adults whose path got very disrupted because they didn't have hope. They didn't have a path they didn't know what to do, you know, so they would end up committing crimes or having other bad situations in their life.
I think I saw it most with when I was in capital cases. ... If someone's charged with the death penalty, the trial goes in two phases, the guilt and innocence phase. And then there's the penalty phase, and in the penalty phase, the defense attorney tries to put on mitigating evidence to show why the client should live. So we would trace back generations of the client's family, and we would reach out to teachers schoolmates of the client from kindergarten on.
And what we saw, what I saw, especially is that often times you could see the past where things were going bad. There'd be like an elementary school teacher who would say, "Oh my gosh, this child, I felt so bad for this child. There just weren't any resources available to help them. I tried everything I could, but there was not enough resources."
Why is civic engagement important to you?
I like working for the city because you get to do interesting things and good things for the community. But when the City Council adopted the strategic plan, it really was a different thing. It looked at social equity and increasing the opportunity for people in our community who have not had the opportunities that we've all had.
It was also a challenge to get our head around how we can accomplish these goals — these are noble goals, but how can we actually accomplish them? And so this partnership and developing this program aligns perfectly with the strategic plan and what our goals are, which some of the primary goals are to increase the number of people who graduate from high school.
Since we started this, different community organizations have helped. This is just an amazing community. It's really great to see everyone stepping together as a community to help raise the children in our community.