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New WMU initiative added to support Kalamazoo Promise

Aug. 20, 2007

KALAMAZOO--It all started with a visit to a local second-grade classroom to teach sign language.

Now Dr. Debra Lindstrom-Hazel has started a project that is reminding elementary school children that college is just around the corner.

She's not alone. Hazel, associate professor of occupational therapy at Western Michigan University, is one of a number of WMU professors that have mounted efforts to encourage Kalamazoo Public School students to take advantage of The Kalamazoo Promise, an anonymously funded program that pays much or all of the tuition costs for district students to attend an in-state college or university.

WMU's Promise-related efforts run the gamut from an after-school enrichment program and college visitations to hands-on workshops and summer camps, all aimed at encouraging students to go to college. Hazel describes her program, which brings students to WMU's campus for a bus tour and a visit to the College of Health and Human Services building, as a "countdown to college."

Hers and the other WMU efforts are designed to help the Promise fulfill its potential, says Dr. James Bosco, WMU's institutional coordinator for The Kalamazoo Promise and professor emeritus of educational studies.

"The Promise is the most important educational development in Kalamazoo's history," Bosco says. "We have lots of work to do in order for the Promise to have the positive impact it can and should have in the lives of children and in the economic and human well-being of our community, but it's hard to imagine having a better opportunity for impact than that which the Promise provides. I know, without a doubt, that WMU will continue to make a rich and important contribution to the success of the Promise."

Hazel's contribution is directed toward students at King-Westwood Elementary School, where a friend is a second-grade teacher. Her friend asked her to stop by her class to show her students sign language. Well versed in American Sign Language, Hazel intended to teach students how to "sing" a song using sign language.

But students seemed as interested in her profession as a university professor. They began to ask questions about college, and Hazel was struck by an idea. Though KPS students qualify for the tuition payment program, she realized that many students were not aware of the preparation and effort involved in making use of it.

"Even 7-year-olds should start thinking about what they are doing in school to make the Promise work," she says.

Hazel's "countdown to college" was born. In addition to a bus tour of the WMU campus, she brings students to the new College of Health and Human Services building where she works to show students what goes on at a university. She then sends students a reminder letter each year, encouraging them to prepare for college and work hard in school.

Her first "countdown" students will be entering fourth grade this fall. She hopes to continue her program with them until they begin their college studies and plans to continue new countdown groups, starting from the same second-grade class.

Hazel is aware of the amount of work she may be in for as her program progresses, but she hopes that eventually she may receive some administrative support to help her as students get closer to college and more and more new students participate. At this point, however, she sees her effort as her contribution to Kalamazoo Public Schools and The Kalamazoo Promise.

"It's what I can do for The Kalamazoo Promise," Hazel says. "It's only going to work if people step up. If only two kids, who wouldn't have otherwise, come to college as a result of this, then it's worth it."

Other WMU efforts linked to The Kalamazoo Promise may be viewed online by going to www.wmich.edu/provost/ThePromise/ and clicking on the WMU Projects and Activities link.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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