Donnelly finds Success First at Holy Name

From left, Angelina Arvizo, Alejandra Ojeda, Bianca Aguilar, Coby Diediker, Saul Contreras and Joel Ayala, all second-graders at Holy Name School in Kansas City, Kansas, ask Anali Hernandez Cruz of Donnelly College questions as part of the Success First Programs at Donnelly. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JOE MCSORLEY

by Moira Cullings
moira.cullings@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It’s not every day students at Holy Name School here are visited by role models they can truly relate to.

“They look like those students, they talk like those students, they have the same perspective and background,” said Lisa Stoothoff.

The role models are students from Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas, and they serve as an example of what the future can hold for the young students.

“We’re trying to show the elementary school [that] it’s not ‘Are you going to college?’ It’s ‘Let’s go to Donnelly College!’ or ‘Which college would you like to go to?’” said Stoothoff.

Stoothoff is director of Success First program at Donnelly, and the students who visited Holy Name Oct. 2 are part of Success First.

“Those students who score below the college level requirement for English composition are the students I accept into Success First,” said Stoothoff.

The program has two tracks: reading and writing, and intensive English.

“If you meet with Success First in our program, statistics have shown that you’ll flourish in college-level courses,” said Stoothoff.

Stoothoff created Project LOUD (literacy outreach in urban district) five years ago as a piece of the program, and every year she’s found a donor to support it.

This year, it was Royals Charities.

Project LOUD increases students’ reading and comprehension skills while also passing those skills on to younger generations.

“Oftentimes, [students] feel oppressed and they don’t understand their privileges,” said Stoothoff.

“We started looking at literacy as a privilege and what it can do for you,” she continued.

For six weeks, participating students work on reading and writing. The content the past two years has centered on poetry.

Their instruction leads up to the day they visit a grade school to read poems — including their own — to the students.

They also hand out a Donnelly tote bag with books and a bilingual flyer about literacy.

The school they visit varies each year, and this year they chose Holy Name.

Rocio Alonzo, a freshman at Donnelly who plans to study nursing, was nervous when she found out she’d be writing and reading her own poetry.

“To know I was going to talk in front of younger kids and their teacher — I was terrified, because public speaking has never been my thing,” she said.

But she overcame her fear and ended up enjoying it more than she expected.

“My favorite part about the project was being able to give back to my community, sharing my ability to speak English as well as Spanish, and inspiring our youth,” she said.

This year’s theme was “Journey.”

“Some of them wrote about being undocumented,” said Stoothoff. “Some of them wrote about their journey in life, living in a bilingual world.”

Students were exposed to poets like Langston Hughes and Emily Dickinson, as well as rap artists like Jay-Z and 2Pac.

That approach not only engages the students but also helps showcase their own talents.

“I think that this experience helped me build confidence in myself and also confidence in my potential,” said Alonzo.

“This will help me communicate to everyone around me and be a productive member in my community,” she said.

The students at Holy Name were grateful for all the hard work Donnelly students put into the project, said principal Amanda Vega-Mavec.

“It’s important for all students to be exposed to all options beyond their current level,” she said.

“We appreciated exposing them to a local Catholic college,” she added, “exposing them to college students, exposing them to college students engaging with their community.”

Vega-Mavec hopes “they walked away with an even greater love for reading and a willingness to share that love of reading, knowing they can talk about poems and stories they enjoy beyond their classroom walls, just as the Donnelly students did with us.”

Stoothoff’s goal is to reach even more Kansas City schools, but a lack of resources is the biggest hindrance.

“If every college could do this type of service learning, we could hit all of the schools in the Kansas City area,” said Stoothoff. “Right now, we don’t have the resources to do this.”

Stoothoff is grateful for the support of donors and hopes to be able to continue this project long term.

“My most important goal for [participants],” she said, “is trying to increase retention in my first-generation students through service learning.

“[I want them to] make that shift to ‘Look at the privilege I have.

“’I can read, I can write, I can teach others.’”

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