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News Archives - 2005

April 12, 2005

Discovering the World Together


Augsburg senior Katie Bickel and Alma Guadalupe Leon play, read, and hang out at the Hope House in Minneapolis.

For five Augsburg College students, this past year has been one of learning, living and loving. These women have not only given a valuable gift to a community outside of campus, but they have been given a gift that they will take with them as they graduate this coming spring.

Kristin Barstad, Katie Bickel, Julie Falbo, Tessa Flynn and Darby Lorents are residents at the Hope House, a Project for Pride in Living (PPL) College House, which is located in the Hope Community of the Phillips West neighborhood. PPL operates three college house sites, Jeremiah’s Porch, its primary institution Bethel University, centered in the Ventura Village area of Phillips; Hartwell House, primary institution the University of Minnesota, located in the Midtown/East Phillips area; and Hope House which houses the Augsburg students.

Each College House is home to upper level college students who serve as tutor/mentors to neighborhood children in grades K-8 who have been identified by their parents and teachers as needing additional academic assistance. The program not only brings together the college students on a one-on-one basis with the youth, but also provides positive role models, builds self-esteem and provides structured academic support.

But there is so much more to this program that can be seen at first blush. So much more that can’t be seen in a brochure or through a mere description of the program, but can be seen by the enthusiastic way the college students talk about “their kids.”

Eric Oines, program manager with PPL since 1998, said there are benefits to both the youth and their college mentors. “The kids get to hang out with 20 - something adult role models in a variety of situations, tutoring, field trips, community events, as neighbors, and the college students get the experience, often completely new to them, of living in a densely populated, economically and ethnically diverse neighborhood.”

They also experience the struggles, barriers, challenges and joys of city life away from campus and out of their “comfort zone,” Oines added.
It’s like a colliding of two completely different worlds, one being an inner city neighborhood of Minneapolis and one where the majority of the college students come from a lifestyle, where as Falbo describes it, “class and race are big issues.” But the impact from this collision is constructive rather than destructive, with both parties involved coming away from this experience with a richer and broader way of looking at life. Falbo said it was different for her at first living in a community where she is the minority. But after being there for almost an entire school year now, she feels more involved in the city, and the experience has actually changed her focus on what she wants to do with her life and career.

“Not only has it been a good experience in which I have been challenged, I have also learned it’s important not to judge people by their life styles,” she said.
Lorents said she saw some of those barriers Oines speaks about at first between them and the neighborhood, but once that was broken, relationships have been built with the neighbors.

“Since we have made a commitment by living in their community, they now consider us ‘their girls’ and I know they would help us whenever needed.”
Bickel agrees that living in the midst of the community makes a difference. “It validates what we do, and we’re accepted more.” This total submersion into the neighborhood makes them more aware of the day-to-day living, rather than going into the community for a few hours a week and returning to their safe, comfortable life style. “You need to be very aware of the windows you are looking out of and not be biased.”

As a matter of fact, the five girls have become so close to their neighbors and the community in which they live, they find themselves frequently defending their neighborhood and its reputation of being in a “bad” part of the city. People make judgments on the neighborhood all the time, Bickel said, without really knowing anything about it. “There is so much more to the neighborhood. There are real people, real kids living here who are trying to live in a real way. They have jobs and birthdays just like us.” It comes down to respect, Lorents added. “If you respect them, they will respect you in turn.”

The students work with two children for two to four hours a week. They also take them on monthly non-academic field trips, such as to a movie, roller skating or to museums. They describe what they do as a layered goal, not only trying to foster a love of reading and math, but spending time with the kids, talking to them, taking an interest in what they’re doing, and exposing them to things they don’t normally get in school or at home.

“What is special for me,” Lorents said, “is the idea that the two of us are discovering the world together. During this time, everything else disappears. It’s helped me to realize who I am.” She has also noticed that the attitudes of the children have changed since she first started the program. “They look at me now as more of a friend.”

Flynn added that she has seen the confidence grow in the children she tutors and mentors, and has learned that spending time with them consistently is what has made the difference.

Bickel’s studying abroad last year prepared her somewhat for this experience. She said there are so many cultural differences that at times she still feels like she is abroad, but then realizes she is in her own country, her own neighborhood.

“Going into this, my eyes weren’t totally closed,” she said. “I wasn’t totally oblivious to what I would find, but I have learned so much, learned to be more tolerant and accept things even if they aren’t pleasant.”

Oines said he hopes the college students get a sense that all lives and people are complicated packages of good and not so good, “but by constantly role-modeling positive, healthy, responsible choices, they are showing kids opportunities, lifestyles, options and lives outside their experiences.”

You can tell by the look in Bickel’s eyes that she has grown close to the children she tutors and mentors, and truly cares about them. “The hardest part for me is wondering if what I’m doing will really make a difference. I have come to love my kids and I wonder, when I walk away at the end of this year, if I will have made an impact?”

According to PPL, these college students do make a difference. More than 80 percent of the participants have gained at least one year in reading, writing and math as measured by standardized NALT test administered by the Minneapolis Public Schools, and more than 90 percent of teachers, youth and parents report an increase in homework completion, academic confidence, positive behavior, and feeling more connected to their school and community. But they aren’t the only ones who have gained from this partnership. It is obvious that these neighborhood children have made quite an impact on all of the Augsburg students as well.

“I hope the college students come away with a growth and learning experience that teaches them that the frame of reference they come from is not the only positive one out there, and there is richness in each community they interact with,” Oines said. “I want their desire to serve to be rewarding and educational for both themselves and their kids.”