Feb 262006
Authors: Mary Swanson

The streets surrounding Kearney Middle School in Commerce City give the appearance of a dying town. "Keep out" and "No Trespassing" signs mark the entrances to many littered yards and decrepit houses. There, prospects seem scarce and opportunity limited, but CSU in collaboration with the Colorado Educational Engagement Initiative are trying to change that.

On Friday, the Sociality, Ethnicity and Civility cluster of the Key Service Community teamed up with the Office of Admissions and the Center for Educational Access and Outreach (CEAO) to run a workshop encouraging Kearney Middle School's eighth graders to start planning for their future, namely by considering higher education.

The workshop was broken into two parts. The first was a series of personal testimonies given by first-generation CSU students. The second was an interactive role-playing activity where students chose between getting their GED, completing high school or finishing college. Each student was then given an occupation and income based on their choices from the beginning of the activity. At the end of the workshop, students received a CSU planner, T-shirt and water bottle.

The Key Service Community is a living, learning community that takes up residence in Parmelee Hall. Members of the community are divided into clusters of 19 students that focus on a specific area of community service such as health care, the environment or social welfare. Open only to freshman, students who choose to join Key Service agree to take a three-credit course and commit to 30 hours of community service in addition to their regular classes.

"(Students) may not remember what we said, but they will remember the day and they will remember the message," said Oscar Felix, the director of the CEAO, a CSU organization that encourages higher education in low-income neighborhoods.

Kearney Middle School students are not likely to forget it.

"To catch them when they're young is the perfect time," said Leroy Gomaz, a former student who worked with CEAO and is now a lance corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps. "Pretty much the reason I got anywhere in my life was because of them."

Felix hopes with the success of this workshop the CEAO and Key Service will be able to offer more workshops to low-income middle schools across the state. However, this will be a challenge because funding for this project came from a grant to work specifically with students in Commerce City. However, Felix and Michelle Wellman, director of the Key Service Community, are exploring ways of making this a reality.

Key Service does not require a minimum GPA but rather dedication to improving the community.

"We're looking for commitment," said Wellman, who said she is constantly amazed at the dedication and drive found among Key Service students.

Still in its first year, Key Service is trying to work out some kinks.

"They didn't tell us we were going to be the guinea pigs when we signed up, but it has been good," said Matt Bahr, a freshman open option seeking business major.

Next year, Key Service plans on expanding from 50 students to 150 students.

"The first year of Key Service has been a good year, and we've done a lot of good," said Adesuwa Elaiho, a freshman food safety and nutrition major. "We're showing kids they can do something better with their life."

Mary Swanson can be reached at regional@collegian.com.

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