Kalamazoo College's Student Newspaper
By Emily Townsend Editor-in-chief
On the second floor of Woodward Elementary, a fifth grade classroom is decorated with college flags. Spartan, Bronco, Chips and Wolverine paraphernalia hang from the ceiling. All students at Woodward share one common gift.
The school is a part of Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS). Every student that attends KPS for at least four years, graduates from a KPS high school and lives in Kalamazoo city limits is eligible for the Kalamazoo Promise: a seven-year-old program that ensures students partial to full college tuition.
Jensen Sprowl ’13 has volunteered at Woodward for four years as a classroom tutor, art room assistant and recess supervisor. She thinks the Promise is an important part of the educational system.
“You hear [Woodward] kids talking about college, where you might have not without the Promise,” Sprowl said.
On Sept. 13, the Kalamazoo Promise was featured in the The New York Times magazine. The article and photo spread drew national attention to Kalamazoo as a community experimenting with free education as a solution to urban plight.
The Promise was announced in 2005 and came as a donation from multiple anonymous donors. In 2004, according to the Upjohn Research Institute, KPS enrollment reached an all-time low, part of downward trend from 1985. Since the announcement in 2005, enrollment numbers have spiked from just over 10,000 students to nearly 13,000 students.
Sprowl is now a Civic Engagement Scholar for a Woodward tutoring program through the Mary Jane Underwood Stryker Institute for Service-Learning. She said the tutoring program has 35 to 40 participants at Woodward this fall quarter.
Sprowl coordinates teachers and K students’ schedules, and facilitates tutor reflections with the other Woodward CES, Kacey Cook. She considers the reflections to be integral to the process.
“We talk about the [Woodward] students and our work. We ask: What’s the context in social justice, society, and just the big picture?” she said. “We encourage K students to talk to the kids about their college experience. We’re role models, representing stability. We have boundaries. We’re not friends, but we’re friendly.”
Despite the overwhelming community support the Kalamazoo Promise receives, including the Woodward tutoring program, the scholarship still faces setbacks. Only students who attend kindergarten through twelfth grade will receive their college education in full. The Promise does not cover room and board fees, nor does it offer assistance at private colleges like K.
Even with the extra incentive the Promise presents, Woodward faculty, like most public school teachers in America, are still overworked. Sprowl said she can’t imagine how hard they work.
“Woodward has a lot of young, tight knit, supportive teachers. They work extremely hard and are investing their own extra money into classroom supplies,” Sprowl added.
On Oct. 8 there will be a first year forum in the Trowbridge Lounge, open to the public, where different service learning programs will be discussing the Kalamazoo public school system and the Kalamazoo Promise.