State Farm Insurance Grant will Enable Mercer County Community College Student Volunteers to Work with High Schoolers


WEST WINDSOR, N.J. -- The State Farm® Youth Advisory Board has granted $38,000 to Mercer County Community College (MCCC) for a service-learning project called Discovering Options that will help Trenton Central High School students prepare for college.

Forty-five MCCC students who are part of a college service-learning program called LEADS (Leadership, Engagement, Academics, Determination and Service-Learning) will be working directly with the high schoolers each week, focusing on college selection, college tours, financial aid literacy, SAT preparation, and life skills. The project begins this month and is slated to continue through June of 2015.

One of the requirements for State Farm's grants is that students conceive a project and assist in writing the grant. Under the guidance of Dr. Khalida Haqq, MCCC's Director of PASS (Programs for Academic Services and Success) four of the college's LEADS students each researched a part of the project and came together to write the proposal.

LEADS students who worked on the writing project all attend MCCC through the NJSTARS program. Latrial Jackson, Sharon Herrara, Shanique Stoddard and Sade Carmichael wrote in the grant, "Remembering back to the struggles we had to go through as high school students in preparing ourselves for post-secondary opportunities, we see it fit that we go back and help high school students in our former situations. We have seen a lot of fellow students slack off and drop out. Graduating high school and pursuing something valuable to their futures was not real enough for them. We want to use Discovering Options to overcome that lack of motivation by helping students to think more seriously about college and other alternatives."

The students chose to work with 9th and 12th graders because "these grades are two very extreme milestones in a high school student's life." They have asked professionals in higher education and at the high school to serve as program advisors, and have established partnerships with MCCC's Upward Bound and Educational Talent Search programs, and Princeton University's Preparatory Program. They also plan to involve fellow TCHS alumni.

The majority of LEADS students are graduates of Trenton Central High School. In their proposal they said "We are well aware of the conditions and attitudes that can cause students to create low expectations for themselves and have apathetic attitudes towards their education. We understand that many students lack the resources and support from home and in school and that can lead to poor motivation."

According to Dr. Haqq, "These students are very impressive and did an outstanding job of conceiving and writing this proposal. Ours was the only such proposal in New Jersey that was funded."

MCCC's PASS programs offer retention services and foster academic achievement and persistence with a focus on at-risk students, especially those participating in the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) and Student Support Services (SSS) programs. Three of the student writers participate in the EOF program and one in the SSS program.

The State Farm Youth Advisory Board is a diverse group of 30 youth, ages 17-20, who were chosen through a competitive process to lead and oversee this $5 million/year signature service-learning initiative. The Youth Board identified the issues, issued competitive grants and will now provide technical assistance, communication and oversight to site grantees.

State Farm supports service-learning because it combines service to the community with classroom curriculum in a hands-on approach to mastering subject material while fostering civic responsibility.

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