Class is back in session, and first-grade students at Findley Elementary School celebrated with a Back-to-School Night event featuring students from Drake University.
“We’re very excited to welcome the first graders and welcome them to a great year,” senior Hannah Heiss said.
For the past several years, Drake has partnered with Findley Elementary School through the By Degrees Foundation to “adopt” the first grade class and introduce students to the future possibility of college and set them up for success.
“By Degrees partners with whole schools to increase high school graduation and postsecondary readiness rates on Des Moines’ northside,” reads the By Degrees Foundation website.
Findley Elementary School works with five universities and one high school program to show young students what is possible for their futures.
“It’s really all about promoting a college-going culture and showing that Drake students and the local community care about our local youth,” Assistant Director of Community Engaged Learning Amanda Martin said.
The goal of the By Degrees partnership is not to recruit these students to Drake University — they won’t be submitting college applications until 2035 — but to give them a good first impression of the college experience.
“We’re here as resources. We want to cheer them on and make sure they have what they need if higher education is what they want to do,” Martin said.
At the Back-to-School Night event, representatives from Drake handed out bulldog crowns and mingled with families to familiarize them with Drake.
Throughout the year, Drake students will engage with the students at Findley several times before they visit campus in the spring, a highlight of the first grade experience.
“I think it’s fun [for first-graders] because they’re like ‘oh, these are big kids,’” Findley parent Hillary Manrose said. “It also shows this is another part of our city and it’s another part of our community.”
Manrose has a son in middle school who has been part of the program for several years and triplet girls going into first grade. She said that her son’s experience with the By Degrees Foundation has sparked conversations about his goals for the future. Right now, he would like to pursue animation.
“I think the best thing is from the very beginning my son has this mindset of ‘when I go to college someday,’” Manrose said.
Many students get something similar out of the program, and that is one of the goals, according to By Degrees program manager Billy Kirby.
“Students everywhere could use an additional adult that cares. When they represent a college or post-secondary opportunity — or even the workers union who comes to our career days — you never know how that’s going to ripple through their life,” Kirby said.
In addition to mentorship, the By Degrees Foundation sets up and contributes to 529 accounts — investment accounts for college — for all students that begin in kindergarten. Students and their families earn funds that are added to these accounts by reaching benchmark goals such as developing good learning habits or attending college financial planning workshops.
“It’s that intrinsic motivation. There’s that money in their name, [and] they’re not going to let themselves down. That’s why we do what we do,” Kirby said.