UI students reach out to local middle schools

By Rosemary Powers

University students have found a way to reach out to the community that surrounds the University campus, but this time, in a way that will introduce middle school students to a future they may have never thought of.

Proyecto CHE, founded by University senior Sonia Rodriguez in 2006, was introduced through a Registered Student Organization run by Rodriguez called MECHA. The program is jointly sponsored by the Don Moyer’s Boys and Girls club of Champaign-Urbana, and was taken over by La Casa Cultural Latina in fall of 2008. Proyecto CHE allows local Champaign-Urbana middle school students to interact with volunteer University students to gain a greater understanding of post-secondary education.

“This program is really two-fold,” said Adele Lozano. director of La Casa Cultural Latina. “We want to expose students to our campus to promote higher education while becoming more educated on their culture and history.”

The program, held on two Saturdays of each month, has chosen this year to focus on art as well as engineering in each activity. On Feb. 7 the students attended an art exhibit at the YMCA, in which the artist displayed her work on slides and students were given time to discuss their meaning, said Lozano.

“Our goal is to instill the feeling that they belong on a college campus, and that it’s not something so distant and unfamiliar,” said Lozano. “If they wait until high school, many times its too late to start college planning. These students can say that they’ve already been here.”

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Proyecto CHE plans to combine the art and engineering focus on Mar. 14, hosting a hands-on art workshop at La Casa, taking students to a workshop through a student-run engineering Registered Student Organization, in which the middle school students will get the chance to build their own creations. The end of day is scheduled to be spent at the Krannert Art Museum for their international festival, exposing students to their native culture, according to Lozano.

Proyecto CHE is currently held with students of Urbana Middle School, with some participants from Franklin Middle School as well. However, La Casa is hoping to expand the program to include Edison Middle School next year.

“We’re hoping to experience a sort of ripple effect in the next few years,” said Lozano. “UI students will pass this along to their friends and we’ll have more volunteers, and middle school students will pass it on to their smaller siblings.”

La Casa also hopes to have increased participation in the program because of the growing Latino population in the Champaign-Urbana area.

“The University is in their back yard,” said Lozano. “If we don’t reach out to them, this campus might as well be on mars.”