Riverland offers college-prep course

Published 9:21 am Thursday, August 14, 2008

Students who aren’t normally on the track to college got an opportunity from Riverland Community College to learn skills that will help them achieve their career and life goals.

The second annual Be Your Best college preparation academy started June 5 and culminated Wednesday evening with a recognition banquet for all 16 participants, staff and friends. The last day of the program is Thursday.

Students between the ages of 16 and 21 from Albert Lea, Austin, Waseca and Northfield participated in the program for “under-served, under-participating and under-represented students to develop the skills necessary for higher education,” according to a Riverland press release.

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“I think it went fabulously. It was a great opportunity for these students to break out of their shells,” said coordinator Megan Gruis who also served as a counselor for the students.

Gruis said the students grew into individuals with goals in mind and the skills to succeed in college. Hopefully, she said, this will lead to them returning to Riverland.

Eight of the 16 students will be attending Riverland as a post-secondary enrollment option or as freshman this coming year. The remaining eight will head back to high school but have plans to attend college, most starting at Riverland because they are familiar with the college, Gruis said.

Throughout the 10-week program, students took courses in math, reading, writing, computer skills, career exploration and had individual advising sessions with Gruis. Students also learned how to research colleges, form a plan for the future and accomplish their goals.

“It was very well-rounded,” Gruis said.

Overall, the students gained a higher confidence level “just knowing that they can succeed at college,” she said.

“They’ve got a goal, and they know the steps that they maybe didn’t know before,” Gruis continued.

Many teachers from the area taught the classes.

“I really enjoyed this program, and I had a lot of fun,” said 18-year-old Irasema Hernandez of Albert Lea. “It’s a great program. I learned a lot.”

Hernandez said she improved her reading and writing skills and learned how to bond with others, meet new people and be more outgoing. She plans, she said, to return to high school as a senior and then go on to college, possibly Riverland.

Students showed interests in going into teaching, English as a second language, social work, auto mechanics, computer technology, accounting and psychology, Gruis said.

“This program is really good for people. It helps you a lot,” Hernandez said. “You learn about other people and their cultures.”

The group put together a joint art project, which was on display at the banquet. Each student painted a puzzle piece that was placed on an Earth background to symbolize students coming together to form bonds this summer.

“You got to see everybody do their own thing and how it looked,” Hernandez said. “It looks pretty good.”

Students also completed service learning projects to become well-rounded people, Gruis said.

They helped the American Red Cross collect recycled cell phones — for every cell phone collected by Oct. 31 ReCellular will donate $1 to the Red Cross — and spent time at the global language camp for elementary school students hosted by Riverland.

“We wanted them to learn skills outside the classroom and be successful in the community as well,” Gruis said.

The Be Your Best program was funded by a grant from the Hormel Foundation through APEX Austin, which assists newcomers in the community through services and resources. Riverland also contributed to the program.

Gruis is a K-12 guidance counselor at Medford Public Schools and has a master’s degree in counselor education from Winona State University. This was her first year with the program.