A high profile campaign is underway in Springfield Massachusetts to inspire more of the city’s public school students to attend college. The initiative started with a pep rally on the steps of city hall and will continue this weekend with several events. WAMC”s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.
The kick off rally for the College?Yes! iniative featured about 300 college and grade school children, some area college presidents and a few college mascots. Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno underlined the importance of the effort when he declared the key to the future of the nation’s cities is an educated workforce.
Two recent graduates of the Springfield Public Schools gave testimonials about the impact college had on their lives. Brian Palmer went to Westfield State University, got to study abroad and did an internship at the Pentagon.
Afterwards 8th graders got a chance to meet with college students and ask questions.
The effort to drum up excitement about college will continue at Friday night football games. On Saturday, a double decker bus full of college boosters will travel through the city, making several stops. Organizers say cheerleaders, flash mobs, loudspeakers and noisemakers will be part of this rolling rally. On Sunday, clergy in more than 30 churches will include a message about college in their services.
There will be tours of college campuses. Nine area colleges are part of the initiative.
One of the initative’s organizers Patricia Spradley, the head of parent and community engagement for the Springfield Public Schools said a high percentage of children in Springfield live in poverty and don’t’ see college as a viable option.
The campaign asks students to sign a pledge to do all they have to in school to graduate and go on to higher education. Adults pledge to encourage and support the child’s aspirations.
Just under half the students in the Springfield Public Schools fail to graduate high school. Of those who graduated last year, 52 percent went on to college. Springfield Superintendent of Schools Daniel Warwick said the schools are moving in the right direction. He said in the last couple of years the number of students taking the PSAT exams has quadrupled, and the number of students enrolled in advanced placement courses has doubled.
Warwick said the school department’s Parent Academy offers help in finding colleges and filling out financial aid forms.
Springfield has a unique program that offers free financial aid counseling to high school students as well as so-called last dollar scholarships.