Leonardtown, Maryland – December 7, 2019 – When Waldorf resident Kelsey Stewart graduated from the University of Maryland College Park in Communication and Social Influence, she knew she wanted to help communities understand each other better by engaging in a meaningful activism. What she didn’t know was that her first job would be to campaign vigorously to teach high school students who are not considering furthering their education how to navigate the possibilities of going to college.
Through a unique partnership between the College of Southern Maryland (CSM) and St. Mary’s County Public Schools (SMCPS), and funded by AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), CSM hired Stewart in August to go into SMCPS high schools and helping seniors become first generation students.
“Our goal for this particular grant is to have an impact on poverty in St. Mary’s County, where there is a great economic divide between the haves and have-nots,” said Lydia Williams, CSM Special Project Director. . “We want to shift poverty into the middle class with higher education and workforce development programs.”
“I visit various communities in St. Mary’s County to make connections at community centers, libraries and high schools and let students know that a college education can be obtained,” said Stewart. “AmeriCorps’ goal is to help close the workforce gaps in the community, and to do that, we start by showing students a path to develop their skills.”
Stewart said she learned very quickly that there was a lot of misconception among certain student populations – and in some cases no information available – about the type of higher education available.
“It’s telling to learn that students don’t know how to get professional certification or that community college is accessible and affordable,” she explained. “And I was surprised at the number of students who didn’t realize how easy it is to move on to a four-year institution after enrolling in community college. Many students are unaware that there are many ways to build a lucrative career.
CSM and SMCPS have been awarded the AmeriCorps VISTA grant for Stewart’s work for one year – and are seeking additional funding. AmeriCorps has several accusations: ending hunger, ending poverty and ending homelessness.
To that end, Stewart said his job was clear. First, she networked and identified the students to work with. Now, she encourages these students to get a better idea of their knowledge of post-secondary education possibilities. And then she plans to host community events to put potential students in the same room as financial experts.
“A lot of students have told me they want to continue learning after high school,” said Stewart. “It’s not a situation where students don’t want to go and learn a trade or some other kind of career. In most cases, the students I speak with explain that there is a barrier to their process of thinking about furthering their education – whether it be physical, monetary or emotional. In each case, it has to do with the student who doesn’t have the information on how to progress, let alone the network to help them get there. “
“I plan to host as many meaningful events that get the word out – as possible,” said Stewart. “I want more people to understand their options. Today we are opening the world to high school students, and tomorrow we would like to work with lower class youth so that there is no more confusion over all the options available to us. We want the possibility of secondary education to be anchored in the community itself.
AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) is responsible for bringing passion and perseverance where the need is greatest: to organizations that help eradicate poverty. AmeriCorps VISTA members serve as a catalyst for change, living and working alongside community members to tackle our country’s most pressing challenges and advance local solutions.
“Our goal is to build on the great work Kelsey does for students in St. Mary’s County and to replicate her programs in Calvert and Charles counties with subsequent grants,” said the vice president. from CSM Academic Affairs, Dr Eileen Abel.
For her part, Stewart – a graduate of North Point High School and former driver education student at CSM – receives a stipend from AmeriCorps and upon completion of her job qualifies for an end-of-service option called Segal. AmeriCorps Education Award. This price is a lump sum to be spent on student loans.