February 22, 2010
Knox College has been awarded a grant of $35,000 by the State Farm Youth Advisory Board to launch a "Junior Great Books" program that will link Knox College students with George Washington Gale Scholars at Galesburg High School, and with elementary school students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Dubbed "Project GEM" -- Galesburg Enrichment Mentoring -- the service learning initiative was designed by a team of Knox College students to support the high school students in the Gale Scholars Program and to introduce both high school and grade school students to in-depth study of literary classics.
The grant presentation, made by local State Farm Insurance Agents to Knox College representatives, was held Monday, February 22 in the Alumni Room at Old Main on the Knox campus. Photos: Above, Knox College President Roger Taylor; below, other speakers at announcement.
"We want to address an achievement gap," said Daniel Gonshorek, a Knox College junior who spearheaded the grant application. "We want more students to succeed in the Gale Scholars Program. We believe that mentoring is a crucial link in academic success at all levels, and mentoring that focuses on great works of literature and history will promote academic success for students at all levels -- grade school, high school and college."
The Gale Scholars Program identifies up to fifteen eighth grade students annually who receive academic support and free tuition scholarships to Carl Sandburg College and Knox College. Among the program's requirements is participation in community service.
"Participating in service learning through involvement in the Junior Great Books program will give Gale Scholars a greater appreciation for education, and deepen the connections among all the students, their schools, the college and the community," Gonshorek said.
Junior Great Books Focus on Literature, History, Environment
Eleven Knox College students will work with 15 Gale Scholars who will in turn lead the Junior Great Books program for up to 60 grade school students. The grant will provide funds for training from the Great Books Foundation for the Knox students and the Gale Scholars, transportation to the Knox campus for the Gale Scholars and the grade school students, stipends to enable the Knox students to stay on campus during the summer months, and materials for all students in the project.
"Great Books programs are predicated on the idea that everyone can read and understand excellent literature," Gonshorek said. "We will do cross-cultural comparisons of works such as the United States' Declaration of Independence and Mahatma Gandhi's essay about Indian independence. We also plan to look at the history of environmental writing in the United States through works like Henry David Thoreau's essay 'Death of a Pine.' "
Project GEM builds on Knox's existing community outreach programs, including a small Junior Great Books program and a large two-week summer enrichment program, College4Kids.
Student Initiative to Expand Community Outreach
"This is a tremendous accomplishment, initiated by Danny and ten other Knox students, to expand the outreach between the college and the Galesburg School District," said Stephen Schroth, assistant professor of educational studies. "They really took the initiative and conceived an exciting new project that brings together what is best about the college, the community, and the sense of cohesion and cooperation between the two. The State Farm Youth Advisory Board officials who reviewed the grant told us that they were impressed by the connection between the college and the community and the dedication of our students."
"This is an example of 'Freedom to Flourish' in the best sense of the term," Schroth adds. "The collaboration, teamwork, and sense of family between the students and Dean Bailey, Professor Ridlon, and myself would not happen at any other college that I can think of, at least not regularly. Our students engage in projects that represent their passions and interests--we just assist them as best we can."
Schroth, along with Stephen Bailey, professor of history and director of Knox's Center for Research and Advanced Study, and Kathleen Ridlon, assistant professor of dance and director of Knox's Center for Community Service, will serve as an unpaid advisory board for Project GEM.
Junior Great Books Focus on Literature, History, Environment
Also speaking at the event were Knox College President Roger Taylor, Knox College student Jordan Lanfair, State Farm Insurance Agent Dennis Twitty, and Illinois State Representative Donald Moffitt.
State Farm was also represented by local agents Shawn Mason, Scott Peet and Rob Williams.
Other officials at the event included Galesburg District 205 Superintendent Gene Denisar, Assistant Superintendent Joel Estes, and High School Principal Tom Chiles; from Knox College, Ridlon and faculty members Diana Beck and Jason Helfer, and Gale Scholars Program Director Les Hunter; Tom Schmidt, president of Carl Sandburg College and chairman of the Galesburg Regional Economic Development Association; and Greg Mangieri, GREDA president and CEO.
Schroth acknowledged ten other Knox students who, along with Gonshorek and Lanfair, helped plan the program -- Cale Dahm, Sergio Ulloa, Edel Vaca, Michael Kaminski, Erin Navolio, Courtney Jude, Angelina Rosa, Leslie Kang, Aubrey Cunat, Shalane Worden, Christian Mahone, Maurice McDavid, Daniel Kizior, and Bridget Dooley.
Service Learning, Training, Mentoring
Project GEM will begin with training sessions for the Knox students and Gale Scholars, tentatively set for March, followed by weekly meetings of the Knox students and Gale Scholars, leading up to sessions for the grade school students starting in April and continuing through June.
"Gale Scholars also will take part in mentoring younger students by working in the College4Kids program this summer. And starting in August, they will be involved in planning next year's Project GEM activities," Gonshorek said.
The State Farm Youth Advisory Board includes 30 high school and college students who were chosen through a competitive process to oversee the awarding of $5 million annually in grants to student-led service-learning projects. The Youth Board identifies the issues, awards the grants and provides technical assistance, communication and oversight to grantees.
Founded in 1837, Knox is a national liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, with students from 47 states and 48 countries. Knox's "Old Main" is a National Historic Landmark and the only building remaining from the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates.
Photo below: State Farm Insurance Agents Shawn Mason, Rob Williams, Dennis Twitty and Scott Peet; Knox College students Jordan Lanfair and Daniel Gonshorek; Knox College President Roger Taylor; State Representative Donald Moffitt.