Editorial: Area’s need for Phuture Phoenix continues

Taken from the Green Bay Press Gazette: http://www.greenbaypressgazette.com/article/20101013/GPG0602/10130675/Editorial-Area-s-need-for-Phuture-Phoenix-continues

// The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay’s Phuture Phoenix program is welcoming its largest-ever class of fifth-graders to campus this week, marking yet another milestone for this impressive initiative.

Co-founded in 2003 by Cyndie Shepard, wife of former UWGB Chancellor Bruce Shepard, the effort to raise college aspirations for our area’s young people has evolved from a beneficial but limited partnership to a large-scale community program. Three other college campuses — Western Washington University, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and, most recently, Silver Lake College in Manitowoc — have launched their own programs modeled after this phenomenal initiative.

Phuture Phoenix Day activities that began Tuesday and continue Thursday will have drawn an estimated 1,400 students from 13 Green Bay School District elementary schools and nine other area school districts. More than 250 UWGB students will have served as tour guides and in other roles to assist the fifth-graders, who come from low-income schools, and more than 90 UWGB faculty members will have opened their classrooms to students during the campus visit, Phuture Phoenix Director Kim Desotell said Monday.

This week’s activities are the most visible part of what the award-winning Phuture Phoenix program does to raise college aspirations for these students, many of whom would be the first in their families to attend college. Ongoing mentor relationships and tutoring offer the chance for UWGB students to further connect with the children involved in the program and build lasting relationships.

We are impressed with the way Phuture Phoenix has evolved, continuing its steadfast focus on helping our area’s young people — many of whom have never before set foot on a college campus — envision their future as students of higher learning. The program could have become less of a priority after Cyndie Shepard’s departure in 2008 — she’s since begun one of its spinoffs at Western Washington, where Bruce Shepard is president — but its champions at UWGB and throughout greater Green Bay ensured it remained strong and vibrant.

The first fifth-grade Phuture Phoenix class graduated high school in June, and more than 10,000 fifth-graders have been involved with the program to date. Also during the last school year, Green Bay’s Jefferson Elementary School — where 90 percent of students are economically disadvantaged — started a school-wide program in conjunction with Phuture Phoenix, aiming to reach kids even earlier than fifth grade.

Convincing youth to pursue higher education, whether at UWGB or elsewhere, is more important than ever as Wisconsin is at an economic crossroads and has a percentage of baccalaureate degree holders that lags behind neighboring states. Just more than a quarter of state residents ages 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree or higher, about the same percentage of degree-holders we have in Brown County. That compares with about 31 percent in neighboring Minnesota and 27 percent nationwide, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

We applaud the success of this program and encourage its leaders to continue to think big about helping the children Phuture Phoenix serves. It truly is a model for the kind of collaboration and innovation our community needs to help foster a brighter tomorrow for us all.