Colonels of Hope began in the spring of 2002 when three students Lisa, Webb and Megan, who had worked at Woodlawn High School (WHS) during a January Interim decided to continue building their relationship with people at the school. During the time these Birmingham-Southern College (BSC) students spent time paining murals at the high school in January, they were astonished to discover that WHS students had a 67.8% passing rate for the Alabama High School Graduation Exam. Of the students who were able to pass, few had access to resources to prepare them to take the ACT or SAT or to apply for college. The high school is situated in a neighborhood where few have all of the resources they need to live healthy, comfortable lives. Due to overcrowding and cuts in funding, the school was unable to provide many of the services needed to ensure the success of its students.
As a result of that January term, the three Birmingham-Southern College students developed a plan to put volunteers from BSC in touch with students at the high school who needed help studying for the graduation exam, the Colonels of Hope. They began recruiting students to visit the school once a week and work with small groups of WHS students on math, reading, language and science. By the end of 2002, twenty to thirty BSC students were devoting one to two hours per week to tutoring in excess of 60 students at WHS. Once the tutoring caught on, other programs were implemented to further build the relationship between BSC, WHS and the students of both schools.
In the fall of 2002, BSC students and about 50 members of the high school’s JROTC program build an outdoor/environmental classroom. The classroom provides students the opportunity to learn about plants and life science through hands-on work. The students continue to maintain a basil garden that they will use to harvest and sell at the local farmer’s market. Colonels of Hope also organized a field trip for WHS students to BSC to expose them to the college experience and give them something to aspire to. An admissions counselor spoke to the group about the college admissions process and financial aid as they toured the campus. For many of the WHS students, this was their first time on a college campus and their first opportunity to learn how financial aid works.
BSC students have benefited from their relationship with WHS as well. Many of the students come from middle to upper class backgrounds so this tutoring experience exposes them to children’s lives who are not as privileged as they are. It forces most of the students to think about why there are such disparities between the opportunities they have and the opportunities that have been and are available to the students at WHS.
The Colonels of Hope are continuing to mentor and tutor at WHS. They are also continuing to keep up the garden and are developing a plan to help students prepare for the ACT/SAT and help with the college application process. The impact of this program has been seen in the strong relationships BSC students have developed with WHS students, teachers and administrators and they are confident this relationship will continue to go and be strengthened throughout the years to come.