NORMAL — “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It's a common question posed to young people.
But for 15 youngsters from the YWCA McLean County who took part in a recent College for Kids workshop at Heartland Community College in Normal, the questions went deeper.
Not only were they asked about goals and career choices, they also were asked about the steps to get them there. And they were given help finding the answers.
Heartland student Darius Carr of Bloomington said, “It's incredible the careers they're choosing.”
Not surprisingly, professional athlete, entertainer, soldier and teacher were among their choices.
But Alex Monzalvo of Bloomington was more specific.
“I want to be a microbiolgist and find a cure for cancer,” said the 10-year-old.
It was difficult to tell who was learning more at the workshop, the children or the Heartland students who were teaching them.
In fact, both were learning and even stepping outside their comfort zones a bit.
The youths from the YWCA, ages 9 to 12, had to fill out an “application” to participate. They were even asked about “work experience,” which might include baby-sitting siblings or having a lemonade stand.
“A lot of these kids may not even think college is possible,” said Alicia Lenard, an adjunct professor at Heartland. “It's so important to plant the seed as soon as possible.”
The workshop was organized by students in Lenard's general studies course called Life Success. The course includes skills that are important to success in college and life in general, such as taking personal responsibility, staying motivated and working with others, Lenard explained.
"I always have some sort of hands-on project where students can apply their knowledge," she said.
Lenard received an Inspire Grant from Heartland, which helps fund service learning projects.
“Having students teach other students, I think that's the most powerful service there is,” said Lenard.
The afternoon started with a tour of campus to give the children an idea of what college is like. The “college experience” was continued by having the youngsters move to different classrooms for each of their three classes. Each classroom was set up differently, too.
In the first, Career Brainstorming, they were in a computer lab, doing research on a federal Bureau of Labor Statistics website on their desired careers. That included looking up what education or training is needed, average pay and projected demand.
In the second class, Career Vision, they made career posters on which they wrote goals and steps to achieve them.
The third class, On Course Memory, had students working in small teams around separate tables, playing a matching game with new terms they had learned.
In a discussion of what it takes to be a good student, Alex said, “Work hard and never give up.”
Jazmin West, 11, of Bloomington gave her reasons for wanting to be a teacher: “I like going to school. I like kids. I like teaching new things.”
Heartland student Mayson Nelson of Normal found it interesting to be in a teaching role.
“I like getting to know about the students and what they need help with,” she said.
In addition to designing the classes, the Heartland students put together a careers activity workbook that each student could take home so the learning would continue. The activities ranged from coloring pages to word-finding games to puzzles, providing information along with fun.
Nathina Williams, early learning director at the YWCA, called the workshop “amazing” and said it's important for the children "to know they have different options.”
“A lot of our children have never talked about college before,” she said.
Lenard said she was proud of her students and the work they put into the project. She also was pleased with the excitement of the children.
“I want to do this every single year for the children,” said Lenard. “You never know what could change a little kid's life.”