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Media of the Month: Destination: Princeton University for WIOA Participants

By Michelle London
Program Director, WIOA Learn & Earn

On March 1, participants of The Child Center’s WIOA Learn & Earn Program had a wonderful opportunity to visit Princeton University, thanks to the generosity of Child Center supporter Ken Jones. The WIOA program works with youth from low-income families to strengthen their academic skills, as well as their readiness for higher education and the workforce.

In advance of the Princeton trip, we tasked each young person to maintain passing grades in their classes and 90% attendance in school and workshops all the way to February. We were impressed that 41 out of 68 WIOA participants met the requirements, signed up, and went on the trip.

Students were given a folder containing a pre-survey to complete before the trip and examples of questions to ask during the tour. The folder also included information about Princeton University and the different majors the school offers. The survey included questions such as “What are you hoping to learn from this tour?” and “What are your top priorities when choosing a college?”

By the time we arrived, the students were eager to learn about the school’s culture, history, academic programs, and campus life. They split into two groups to ensure all students could ask questions and get the full Princeton experience. The tour guides were warm and generous in their answers. They showed the students many aspects of the campus, including the libraries, dorms, classrooms, and athletic facilities. They also shared exciting stories about the school’s history, student life, sports, superstitions, and majors, which helped the students understand what college life would be like at Princeton. They also talked about the tuition fees and financial aid available.

In addition to a traditional tour, the students participated in a scavenger hunt, which gave them an exciting, fun, and hands-on way to learn more about university life. They took pictures in front of various buildings and completed challenges to learn more about the school. They also participated in an “interview 101” with current students. They had a great time and were excited to share their experiences with their peers!

After the tour, we stopped for lunch and talked about what they learned. It was heartening and inspiring to hear the excitement in their voices. Everything my team does at WIOA is to prepare our scholars for the next chapter. We want them to know that college is not just something other people do—it is something they can do. This visit to Princeton drove that message home for them, and I could see the sense of hope in their faces and hear it in their words. I hope that you see it, too, in this collage that has the honor of being this month’s Media of the Month!

A post-tour survey allowed scholars to reflect on their experiences and share their thoughts on the visit. They put a lot of thought into it and clearly left feeling inspired and motivated to pursue their academic goals.

On behalf of all of us at WIOA, I extend my deepest thanks to Ken Jones for sponsoring this trip and opening up a whole new world for our WIOA youth! Child Center supporters play an invaluable role in ensuring our students have access to the experience and opportunities all young people deserve.

Justin’s Story

Justin, WIOA participantHello, my name is Justin, and I’m 18 years old. I graduated from August Martin High School and now attend college at West Virginia University Potomac State College.

The beginning of high school was a difficult time for me. There were things at home I couldn’t control. My family was living in a shelter and struggling financially—and I was struggling with my schoolwork. I needed something to get me on the right track. I joined the WIOA program so that I could get a summer job and earn stipends. Then I could use the money to help pay for bills and expenses to help my family out and find a more stable living situation.

It turned out that WIOA was the best program I ever attended throughout my high school years. One of my struggles was balancing my classwork and social life. I loved basketball and all I wanted to do was play the game and work out. Basketball was an escape for me. However, Mr. Eric, Ms. Michelle, and Mr. Maurice showed me that I had to look not just at escaping. They showed me that basketball gave me opportunities to do more than just play a sport and how to use the sport as a tool—to open up doors with people and how to be professional when I was talking. I liked that they didn’t downplay the importance of basketball in my life, but instead showed me how I could use it for more than just an escape. It got me thinking about the importance of networking with people and how I could use my strengths and experiences to better my life.

The same thing happened with the summer job I got through WIOA, working at Walgreens. I was able to apply the concepts I learned with basketball to my job and learn so much more than how to operate a register, and earn more than the dollars I was paid. I acquired a strong work ethic and became skilled at and comfortable with interacting with others in a professional way. WIOA really emphasized knowing what you’re doing and why, and that helped me make the most of my job, basketball, and school.

At school, I was struggling with my Regents exams, the college application process, and with my education in general, because no one in my family earned beyond a high school diploma, and I didn’t really know about college or have a strong support system. But WIOA became that support system. Mr. Eric helped me understand why college was important and what I needed to do in order to get there. The staff helped me get ready for college and become more focused, and they helped me with applications and financial aid. I applied early and got into West Virginia University and received enough financial aid to make it possible for me to go.

WIOA also stresses helping in the community. One of the best service learning projects I did was when we partnered with Friends of Rockaway and helped with Hurricane Sandy relief. We went out over several weeks and helped with the rebuilding of someone’s home. We were also able to go out to the community to see if others were hit by the storm, too. This was very impactful for me because I got to know my director, Mr. Eric, so much better and understand how he is in the position and the job he’s in now but wasn’t always. He struggled similar to how I have been struggling but still made it in life. It made me believe that I can, too, and can give back to my community and make it better—the way other people have worked to make it better for me.

I participated in WIOA for two full years before graduating high school and starting college this fall. I hope going to college and earning a degree will open doors and opportunities for me and my family.

I’m still in my first year so I’m not exactly sure what I want to do, but I’m looking at sports management and political science. I feel so lucky to have these options.

One of the best things I got out of WIOA was that it shaped my values and made me more aware of what I’m doing and why. I used to never reflect on why I was doing something and how it played a role in my larger goals. I didn’t really think about the purpose. Now thinking about those things is second nature to me.

Life without WIOA — I can’t really picture that because they helped me so much to get where I am today. If I didn’t become a part of WIOA, I would not have had the skills or the resources I needed to go to college. Being out of state is the best thing that ever happened to me. Getting to know new things and develop relationships and network with different people was a great thing, too.

This is my story of being a student of WIOA. It’s still helping me.

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