How Providence Promise Is Building A College-Going Culture
By Madalyn Ciampi
This was previously posted on Forbes.com.
As the College Promise movement continues to gain momentum throughout the country, local leaders recognize they must provide more than just funding to make higher education accessible to all students. In Providence, Rhode Island, our Providence Promise is helping families open and build savings in 529 College Savings Accounts, and offering “gap funding” to cover the cost of attending college, net of financial aid. However, our Promise goes above and beyond providing financial resources to students.
We are creating a college-going culture: building expectations and college aspirations for our students, their families, and the community. Our goal is to ensure that our kids are prepared, supported, and motivated to pursue education after high school.
Recently we wrapped up our largest, college-focused initiative yet, the Follow Your Dreams Tour. It’s a high energy, upbeat program that uses rap music to get young people in our community to dream about future careers, to consider what type of education they might pursue, and to educate families on what Providence Promise can do to help students achieve their goals.
Studies demonstrate that low-income and first-generation college students are more likely to pursue education after 12th grade if they attend high schools with active college-going cultures. So, knowing that, as we planned our Promise program, we asked ourselves, “Why not begin the conversation about higher education even earlier, in kindergarten through eighth grade?” That was the impetus for launching the tour.
We were fortunate to partner with James McBride, a local award-winning, professional rapper who has devoted his musical career to inspiring youth to improve the world. Under his stage name, Mr. Deep Positivity (MDP), McBride performs original music to deliver powerful, positive messages, making him a perfect fit for our program.
“I have been telling students for 16 years to follow their dreams,” said McBride. “When I found out about Providence Promise and how they are helping students to actually follow their dreams, I thought that was amazing, and I had to get involved.”
We collaborated with the Providence Public School district and selected 11 schools to serve in the pilot program for our first Follow Your Dreams Tour. Each of these schools is now designated as a “Providence Promise School.” We are following up with each of those school communities to host Promise events for families and to spread the word about Promise.
We worked closely with MDP to design the Tour, a two-part program involving both a school assembly and a Family Fun Night at each of the 11 schools.
At school day assemblies, Mr. Deep Positivity spoke to students and performed positive rap songs, including his original “Providence Promise Song,” written for the tour. The response from students exceeded our already high expectations; kids at each venue embraced Mr. Deep Positivity’s messages, as they clapped and sang along. Even teachers and administrators got into the act, many wearing college t-shirts and some decorating hallways with college banners and college-themed bulletin boards.
At the end of each assembly, our Promise staff introduced the second part of the program: a Family Fun Night to be held at each school several weeks later. Students were invited to create something to showcase their plans for the future, something they could enter into a contest at Family Fun Night. Some teachers even chose to use this challenge as a classroom project. At the Family Fun Nights, we provided pizza, door prizes, and a second performance by Mr. Deep Positivity. A highlight of each evening was the children’s presentations of their contest entries, which included posters, poems, drawings, and PowerPoint slides describing their dreams to become artists, lawyers, teachers, firemen, makeup artists, and even the future President of the United States.
“The contest provoked the kids to think beyond college,” said McBride. “Providence Promise is helping them to think about that A-to-Z plan. I don’t think there’s any other Promise program in the country that’s doing what they’re doing.”
Already, we’ve seen benefits from the tour. Not only did we have our first opportunity to engage directly with students on post-secondary dreams, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in enrollment in Providence Promise. During the first two months of 2018 before the tour launched, eight new students joined. In the two months since the tour began, over 70 new students have enrolled.
Our work to help build the important college-going culture within our schools continues. We’re actively seeking funding to bring the tour to the remaining 18 public elementary and middle schools in Providence and to area charter schools. We hope to make every one of them a Providence Promise School as we work to build and strengthen a college-going culture in our community.