With application numbers more than double compared with previous years, Kent Intermediate School District and the Grand Rapids Community Foundation worked together to ensure as many students as possible get to experience the ‘Close Up’ trip to Washington D.C.
What has been said to be a life-changing experience that can reinforce career dreams, provide cultural awareness and enhance critical thinking abilities has been made possible to 16 students from area schools.
“Some of these students haven’t been out of the state,” said Angela Morris, Kent ISD grants & development coordinator. She explained that some students who feel disenfranchised before the trip will return home motivated to get involved in the local political process by signing up people to vote or by volunteering at polling locations.
For a trip costing nearly $1,800, Kent ISD was able to facilitate donor-provided scholarships totaling $4,697 for seven students from Rockford Public Schools, Grandville Public Schools and Thornapple Kellogg Schools. Funds came from the Adler Fellowship, established in 1990 to honor former Kent ISD Deputy Superintendent Garrell Adler, and cover 50 percent of the program fee for students who show financial need. The West Michigan Fellowship Fund provided $500 to students who meet low-to-moderate income requirements. The Grand Rapids Community Foundation also will help nine students from Grand Rapids Public Schools.
In addition to financial eligibility, ties to community service and quality references can help earn students a fellowship.
Building a Foundation
During the program, students get an opportunity to meet with legislators, sit in on committee meetings and visit Washington D.C. memorials.
To sweeten the deal, students get an opportunity for organized debates and discussions about current policies. Students from all corners of the country with different backgrounds can network and discuss the ways policies are impacting their communities, providinga wider scope for students to view the political environment.
“It will be a good experience rooming with students from other schools,” said Thornapple Kellogg senior Kayla Gibbs, who added that she is honored to have the opportunity and hopes to hone her leadership skills.
“This is an opportunity of a lifetime,” said Kent ISD Assistant Superintendent Ron Koehler during opening remarks at a recent event announcing scholarship recipients. Koehler mentioned that the Kent ISD truancy officer was once a Close Up student, and said many Close Up alumni get turned on to careers in law after the experience.
For Bethany Converse, a Tech Center Health Careers student from Thornapple Kellogg, the trip is less about changing career paths as it is about meeting and engaging with people from different backgrounds and learning more about the nation’s history. “I look forward to seeing all the monuments, museums and culture,” she said.
Despite a surge in applicants, the funding for the fellowships hasn’t grown over the years, said Morris, who hopes that more local donors can step up to help keep the scholarship going.
“This year we gave more scholarship money than we took in,” Morris said. Simple economics show this is not sustainable, but Morris hopes that while interest increases, so will awareness from alumni, area organizations and anyone else who would like to support a curious younger generation.
“It’s really a strong program. Grand Rapids is probably one of the biggest participants in the nation,” said Morris, adding that she’d like to see it continue to grow.
Donate to the Fellowships: firstname.lastname@example.org