Compass 2 Campus brings 1,000 fifth graders to WWU campus

Mentoring program, now in its ninth year, aims to empower kids to be lifelong learners

About 1,000 fifth graders from Skagit and Whatcom counties visited Western Washington University on Tuesday, Oct. 17, to see firsthand what a university campus is like. The tour kicks off the ninth year of Compass 2 Campus, a proactive effort that sends trained WWU student mentors into schools in order to get more kids to see themselves as lifelong learners.

The annual tour of campus is just the beginning of a long-term relationship between the fifth graders and WWU mentors. As the fifth graders progress through middle and high school, Western Compass 2 Campus mentors continue to serve these students to offer encouragement and support to graduate from high school and pursue higher education.

Image courtesy Western Washington University
Image courtesy Western Washington University

This year, for the first time, students who were mentored in the program while attending area public schools are now enrolled at Western.

“Students who are mentored or who have a significant adult in their lives have a better chance of success. We’re reaching out to students who may not think about graduating from high school and going on to college, encouraging them to have that vision,” said Anselmo Villanueva, executive director of Compass 2 Campus (C2C). “It’s great that students mentored in the program are now attending Western. A primary goal of the program is to encourage students in K-12 to imagine themselves attending higher education.”

Many Western students are working on advanced projects in the schools in which they mentor students. Additional students who have already taken the class and cannot fit another into their schedule are continuing to mentor as volunteers. Mentors spend at least four hours a week in schools, engaged where teachers and administrators feel they’re needed most; some help with after-school activities while others lead small group projects or provide one-on-one academic help to students in need.

Working with elementary through high school teachers, the WWU students learn about the students’ aspirations and talk to them about how going to college can help them reach those dreams.

While many mentoring programs focus their efforts on students who have already shown academic promise or interest, Compass 2 Campus aims to reach all students – even those who may not show interest in school.

“I think we miss a lot of very bright children by just assuming that they’ll never make it because they don’t do well in school,” Villanueva said. “We typically let those kids go. We’re saying ‘We’re not letting you go.’”

Priority is given to students who would be first-generation college students, low-income, students of color, and immigrants.

“District superintendents selected the schools they felt would most benefit from the program,” Villanueva said.

The program, launched in 2009 at Western, includes 13 area elementary schools and 10 middle schools and nine high schools as well as partners from four community and technical colleges and Communities in Schools.

A list of participating schools is here. Funding for the program primarily is from grants and private sources.

The Washington State Legislature established legislative support for the program in 2009 with the passage of HB 1986 with the goal of increasing the number of low-income students, diverse and first-generation college students in higher education.

Three years ago, Central Washington University opened Compass 2 Campus, encouraging their local youth to consider college in their futures, as well.  CWU partnered with Western to adopt the program.

“We receive continual requests to replicate the program in other areas,” Villanueva added.

C2C has won several prominent awards. Previous C2C Executive Director Cyndie Shepard was nationally recognized with a Daily Point of Light Award, which honors individuals and groups creating meaningful change in communities across America. The award was founded by former President George H. W. Bush during his presidency to engage individuals, families, businesses and groups to solve community problems through voluntary service.

Several scholarships– including from C2C founder Cyndie Shepard and her husband Bruce Shepard, former Western president – have been established to support public school students mentored in the program who go on to attend Western.

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