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Karee Magee/MEDILL

The Northwestern University dance group, Fusion, taught the students of Bernhard Moos a dance to show that college can be fun during their visit to the campus.

CPS students are given early start to generate interest in college

by Karee Magee
May 21, 2013

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Supplies for Dreams

While participating in a scavenger hunt at Northwestern University, the students of Bernhard Moos Elementary School were fascinated by the rocks along the lake. Year after year of Northwestern students had painted the rocks with names of school clubs and marriage proposals, in what the elementary school students saw as a freedom that they had not previously associated with school.

“It’s cool that kids can go write whatever they want,” said Daphne Parra, an eighth-grader at Bernhard Moos on the West Side. “There’s a lot of history here.”

The seventh- and eighth-grade students visited the campus Saturday as a part of the Award-a-Field Trip program that provided three college trips to elementary and middle school-age students this year through the nonprofit organization Supplies for Dreams, a student-run organization that provides enrichment programs for Chicago Public Schools students.

“Supplies for Dreams aims to help CPS students succeed in school — ultimately, to graduate from a college or university,” said Aria Fiat, co-founder of Supplies for Dreams. “What better way to get them motivated than a trip to Northwestern?”

According to Fiat, 86 percent of Chicago Public Schools students come from low-income households and do not have access to resources that they need for their education.

Horace Hall, associate professor of Educational Policy Studies and Research at DePaul University, said: “Students who don’t typically have access to certain spaces in their communities or even outside their communities, field trips give them the capacity to understand that you have access. When young folks don’t have that access, that impacts their achievement on an educational level.”

Supplies for Dreams was created by Fiat and Hiro Kawashima, co-founder of Supplies for Dreams, in 2008 as a high school project that provided backpacks with school supplies to low-income students, giving them the name Supplies for Dreams, which they turned into a student-run organization in 2009.

The organization serves 2,500 students in three schools: Manuel Perez Elementary School, Belmont-Cragin Elementary School and Bernhard Moos.

“We didn't like that so many students in the Chicago community did not have access to the same scholastic resources and opportunities that we did,” Fiat said “We felt that we could still make a meaningful difference by providing basic school supplies to Chicago Public Schools students in low-income communities.”

The organization expanded to include a mentoring program called Mentor Academic Enrichment Program, providing case-by-case tutoring to at-risk students.

The Award-a-Field Trip program was created in September 2009 when Fiat and Kawashima enrolled at Northwestern, and provides trips to museums as well, to spark an interest in learning.

The Supplies for Dreams website says that 40 percent of CPS students will not graduate from high school and 94 out of 100 students will not graduate from a two-year or four-year college.

“We know that a lot of young people in Chicago drop out of school as early as fourth grade,” Hall said. “They don’t drop out of school physically; they drop out intellectually, socially and emotionally due to the lack of access.”

The organization provides the college trips to students in grades fourth through eighth in an effort to stop this trend before high school.

“Sophomores and juniors might be four or five years behind,” Kawashima said. “At that point, you’re not even looking to get them into a college like Northwestern; you’re just trying to get them into college, period.”

“The idea behind bringing our younger kids is that hopefully it becomes an inspirational path,” Kawashima said. “The whole point of field trips is to spark their curiosity.”

Hall agreed that beginning earlier benefits the students.

“It’s very important to get them at younger and younger ages to have that exposure, to understand possible goals and opportunities,” Hall said.

“We have over 98 percent of our students receiving free or reduced lunch,” said Karime Asaf, principal at Bernhard Moos. “Because of economic limitations many of our students never step out of their neighborhoods. To see what is possible gives them hope.”

The college visits incorporate a theme for the day, and Saturday’s theme was college life outside of academics.

“A lot of students think it’s boring, too much studying,” said Irma Suarez, mother of a seventh- and eighth-grader at Bernhard Moos. “They don’t have to be only dedicated to study. They have a lot of freedom to do other stuff.”

Daphne, 14, said, “I like walking around. It gives you like a feel of how campus would be. I wouldn’t mind coming here.”