many of those in the Student Corps programs want to be the first in their
families to attend college, if they can secure scholarships.
Marilyn Gripper, 57, a retiree volunteering at Cody, is gathering resources on scholarships and financial aid for the students, who, she says, are eager for information. "We are trying to inspire them. The biggest barrier is not believing they can do it," she said. "I've been inspired by them. They are yearning to learn."
Back in Cody's cafeteria, Mr. Wright, the team leader, has written on a white board: "Love Yourself."
"My job is to impart as much knowledge with you and in you so when I transition off, you will be OK ... to make you independent, strong, and confident," he said. In 45 minutes, he packs in advice on staying away from bad influences, a demonstration of how to walk with a purpose, and tips on how to carry on a conversation with someone new.
At the end of the lunch period, it was time to tackle more weeds outside.
"We aren't here to make you professional gardeners," Mr. Wright said. "The grass and the clipping, that's the external stuff. This is what this it is about," he said referring to the lunchtime conversation.
'Don't Be Scared'
Across town, at Osborn College Preparatory Academy, GM retiree Jack Hazen, 70, led a Student Corps team painting a small, weather-worn garage for a senior citizen. The students and retirees developed the business plan for the summer, including compiling a supply list for the repair work and sprucing up Osborn's baseball field.
"They learned [that] in business that everybody has to live within a budget. We tried to emphasize that we can't just throw money at everything," said Mr. Hazen.
In the 87-degree heat, students took occasional breaks to splash themselves with icy water from the cooler. Among them, rising senior and aspiring journalist Lettie-Ann Miller said she also has been soaking up advice about networking. "Don't be scared. Always make sure you go out there and get contacts because you never know what will happen," she said.
The Student Corps team from the River Rouge High School, just south of downtown, landscaped around a viaduct that cars pass through to reach their school. The city cleared the weeds, and the student crew then laid plastic and planted 200 boxwoods to transform the space. Other projects chosen by the team include food distribution at a local community center and mentoring incoming freshmen in a high school orientation program.
Retiree Lew Eads is volunteering because he remembers adults in his life who encouraged him as a young person. "They showed me my potential, that's why I'm here," said the 70-year-old who worked as a GM advertising manager. "I tell the kids, 'We're here for you.' I give them hugs and tell them we love them."
No decision has been made yet about whether the program will continue next year, but Mr. DiGiovanni would like to see other Detroit businesses join the initiative. "Imagine a Student Corps of not 110 kids, but 3,000 kids," he said.
Sandy Baruah, the president of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, said GM has been instrumental in supporting education reform, and this program was a natural next step. "It really demonstrates the importance that the business community is placing on education achievement," he said.
Programs such as the GM Student Corps can reduce the perceived gap between business interests and community interests, Mr. Baruah suggests. "When people understand each other better, we find we have more in common than we have not in common."
After the summer, Mr. DiGiovanni said he anticipates many of the retirees and students will stay in touch.
Seventeen-year-old Gregory Thomas, a 4.0 student who wants to be an engineer, says he hopes the experience will help his future job prospects. "If later in life I want to try to work for GM, I might get tips from them," he said.
Volunteer Tom Parkhill, 69, plans to give students on his Cody team his business card at the end of the program. "They have expectations. Our job is to do what we can to make those expectations happen," he said. "You need door openers and people who can help."
Special coverage on the alignment between K-12 schools and postsecondary education is supported in part by a grant from the Lumina Foundation, at www.luminafoundation.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
(c)2013 Education Week (Bethesda, Md.)
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