Eight 8th grade essayists at Harding Middle School just earned the first of what they hope will be multiple post-secondary scholarships thanks to triangulation between the school’s English curriculum, the By Degrees Foundation and Iowa Student Loan.

Last December the DMPS chapter of the I Have a Dream Foundation rebranded as the By Degrees Foundation

By Degrees cultivates college preparedness in schools throughout the Northside feeder pattern, from Findley Elementary through North High School.

Iowa Student Loan is a community nonprofit committed to helping students responsibly finance their post-secondary education, whether it’s in skilled trades, the military or colleges and universities.

Cari Long is the By Degrees Program Manager at Harding.

“Iowa Student Loan sent staff over here for four Fridays to deliver curriculum around college preparedness and post-secondary opportunities in Sara Rue’s and Mark Shirbroun’s English classes,” she said. “At the end of the 4th session, students were assigned an essay on the things they learned about post-secondary education, with a monetary award given to the best-reasoned arguments. I will work with the winners and their families to open a 529 CSA (College Savings Account) with their money. I think this has been an awesome experience for the students, and we will only make it better next year.”

Heather Isaacson spearheaded the Dreamer Academy at Findley when it was established in 2014 and has coordinated the concept’s expansion to the middle and high school levels. She’s now the By Degrees Program Director at North.

“A big part of what we do is demystify the process of exploring post-high school opportunities and debunk misconceptions about financing them,” Isaacson said. “We hold an annual family event at Findley for those purposes and when we wanted to adapt that to the middle school level we reached out to Iowa Student Loan for help.”

Marc Hendel is Senior Researcher and Data Analysis Manager at Iowa Student Loan, and he’s accustomed to partnering with By Degrees.

“We have been working with By Degrees for several years to promote awareness of college costs and financial planning among Findley families,” Hendel said. “We were excited to have the opportunity to share our online tools with Harding students and discuss steps they could take now to prepare for education after high school. Students used our Student Loan Game Plan and ROCI Reality Check tools, which are both free online at www.IowaStudentLoan.org, as well as the Time for Payback game created by Next Gen Personal Finance, which sponsored the (essay) scholarship awards.”

The class assignment required Harding 8th graders to research the positions they took in their essays and represented an extension of the By Degrees model that includes actual on-campus college visits for each grade level. Last year these 8th graders visited the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. Last month they toured the campus of Central College in Pella. Later this spring the Harding 6th graders will head for the Des Moines Area Community College main campus in Ankeny.

The following students received seed money for their post-secondary piggybanks in recognition of their essays:

  • Dayna Christensen- $100
  • Victor Deo- $100
  • Hter Meh- $50
  • Kenyetta Foster- $50
  • Darchelle Toliver- $50
  • Joel Lazo-Chavez- $50
  • Amelia Leff- $50
  • Eh Moo- $50

They represent a pilot cohort, according to Isaacson.

“Hopefully, we will attract new community partners who will see the wisdom in this effort and that it benefits everybody to expand opportunities for underprivileged students,” she said. “We’d like for every student to start planning and saving for education and training beyond high school.”

As Victor concluded in his essay, “Often we neglect the importance of the youth, usually without praise and almost always judged for their antics. The older generations look down upon the youth…they don’t realize that we are ushering a new age of knowledge availability as well as a rapidly advancing technological world…we must teach them instead of scolding them, we must imbue the correct values…”

That’s money in the bank right there, Victor. And there’s more where that came from.

Published on