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ISU ‘College Mentors For Kids’ Chapter Aids Local Disadvantaged School Kids

At eight-years-old, Jackson Mickey has a very interesting ambition for when he gets older. He wants to be a game warden. Currently though, like every third grader, he is in elementary school, Stevenson School in Bloomington’s District #87, to be specific.
Jackson, son of Cathy Irvin, a former LeRoy resident, is one of about 300 youngsters in first through fifth grades who are getting an opportunity to experience being on a college campus to get an understanding of how they can help themselves to possibly achieve their dreams. They are doing this through a program called College Mentors For Kids.
According to the group’s website, College Mentors For Kids is “a nonprofit organization which pairs more than 1,700 first- through sixth-grade children with 1,900 local college student mentors. Also according to its website, the group uses after-school activities that center on “higher education and career, culture and diversity, and community service.” The site further explains mentors help their ’Little Buddies’ understand the importance of education, show them the benefits to cultural understanding, and teach them ways to give back to their community.”
The school-age students meet up with their “buddies” once a week, taking part in age-appropriate group activities. College Mentors For Kids has partnered with Bloomington School District #87, and currently has kids from three elementary schools – Sheridan, Irving, and Bent – involved in the program.
“Being in the program is going to make Jackson want to go to college,” explained his mother, Cathy Irvin, a LeRoy native. “Being in the program will also tell him more about how everything works in life. It’s made him a little more responsible already.”
For Jackson, the best thing about participating in the program is “seeing my buddy,” who is Alex Fuchs, a freshman at Illinois State University majoring in Elementary Education. The buddies have been shooting hoops among other outside activities when not taking part in the program.
For Fuchs, a native of the Chicago suburb of Bloomingdale, the experience he has been having through College Mentors for Kids is preparing him for what he wants to eventually do in life as a teacher. “We show these kids what college life is like and teach them what things would be helpful for preparing for college,” he explained.
While Jackson and his pal Fuchs hang while helping foster learning, Ashley Johnston is mentoring a first grade girl through the program. Johnston, a 2005 graduate of Heyworth High School, is working on her second Bachelor’s degree, in Bilingual Education, at ISU. She transferred to ISU from the University of Illinois in Champaign. She came to ISU to work on her degree with respect to working in the education field.
Johnston said Sheridan, Irvin, and Bent Schools serve a segment of their populations that include economically disadvantaged families. Kids in each of the age groups taking part in College Mentors For Kids visit the ISU campus once a week for their group activity alongside their buddy.
Johnston said she thinks “there is a spark that is ignited for these kids by this experience. I don’t know how big that spark is, but I think they definitely have an interest.” She also has a wishful hope that what she shows these kids will stick with them as time passes, giving them the necessary desire to go to college.
But to do a program that benefits these kids takes money. To raise that cash, College Mentors For Kids held their 9th annual “5K Walk-Run For Kids” on ISU’s campus on Saturday, April 5. Nearly 300 people of all ages participated and raised $26,000. Alyson Spagnoli, an ISU sophomore elementary education major, is president of ISU’s College Mentors For Kids chapter.
The program currently has 23 chapters on university and college campuses in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and New York. It began with pilot programs at both Indiana University and Butler University. Its headquarters are in Indianapolis. ISU has the only chapter in the state. The student organizers fundraise to make the program free of charge to both the school districts and the parents of the children benefiting from the program.
The program exposes the children to the University, Spagnoli said. “We teach them – at age appropriate levels – what is a university; what is a major; what you can get a degree in.” At the age the younger children in the program are, she added, “they want to be police officers, firefighters, and doctors. They aren’t at an age where they can realize you can major in all kinds of things.”
As the older children in the program have shown, like Jackson Mickey, they have an idea of a career path they are thinking of. In the last eight years, ISU’s branch of College Mentors For Kids has seen close to 1,000 kids take part in the program.
During the current school year, there are 165 kids in the program, an increase of 20 from last school year. The program is now in its 10th year and is looking to help 200 kids by next school year. “There definitely is an exponential growth going on here,” Spagnoli said.
Spagnoli added the group is currently negotiating with District #87 to add a fourth grade school to the program, as well as researching getting the program into Unit 5 schools sometime down the road.
One thing I noticed though was that there were not too many Twin City residents among the nearly 300 who donated money to take part in the 5K. That was a shame. They were mostly out-of-town friends and relatives of the mentors. Perhaps sharing this will encourage local residents to add this event to their calendars next year. Getting local participation would also mean widening the publicity beyond the odd flier left with businesses throughout town. The group ought to consider other methods of publicity that are available to help spread the word.
 This program strikes me as being very worthy, and if organizers can add students from Unit 5 or possibly even ISU’s lab school, Thomas Metcalf Elementary School, it will be serving a wide range of youngsters equally in need of such assistance. I would hope they can make that happen at some point by making the right contacts.


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Keane and Lofton Transferring from ISU
Sophomore guards Kaza Keane and Zach Lofton are transferring from the Illinois State men’s basketball team, head coach Dan Muller announced Monday.
An Ajax, Ontario native, Keane averaged 2.4 points, 1.4 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game during the 2013-14 season.
“I appreciate everything Kaza has done the past two years for our program,” Muller said. “Kaza wants to get closer to home so his family can see him play more often since they did not get to watch him in person while he was in high school or during his past two years here. Kaza has always represented our university the right way, and I wish him nothing but the best.”
Keane came off the bench to play in all 34 contests as a sophomore. He also appeared in 31 games – with 10 starts – as a freshman in 2012-13. He signed with Illinois State after attending Christian Faith Center Academy in Creedmoor, N.C.
“The past two years have been great to me, and I am grateful for the coaches, my teammates and the fans here at ISU,” Keane said. “The experience has been great, but not being able to see my family is a burden. That is why I will be leaving and attempting to find a school closer to home. Thanks to everyone for everything, and go ‘Birds!”
Meanwhile, Lofton averaged 11.3 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game in 2013-14.
“Zach will be leaving the program after this semester to play somewhere else,” Muller said. “I am excited about Zach’s future as a person and player, and I believe he is more ready than ever to be successful. I want to thank Zach for his contributions this year, and we will continue to help him academically and any other way we can. I wish Zach nothing but the best.”
Lofton played in 31 contests – including 13 starts as a sophomore – after transferring to ISU from San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Texas. Lofton is a St. Paul, Minn., native.
“I’ve been blessed to have played my first NCAA Division I season, and I’m thankful for my coaching staff, for the fans, for everyone who has helped me along the way, and for everyone who has helped me grow as a person,” Lofton said. “I am now ready for my next challenge. Go ISU!”
Keane and Lofton helped Illinois State achieve an 18-16 record in 2013-14, including marquee victories over a Top-25 program (vs. No. 25 Dayton, Dec. 7), a Big Ten team (at Northwestern, Nov. 17) and a Big East opponent (vs. DePaul, Dec. 22) in the same season for the first time in program history.

Nick Zeisloft to Earn Bachelor’s Degree, Transfer from ISU
Redshirt sophomore guard Nick Zeisloft is leaving the Illinois State men’s basketball team to pursue further academic and playing opportunities. Zeisloft will transfer upon completion of his undergraduate degree this summer, head coach Dan Muller announced Monday.
Zeisloft is on track to earn his bachelor’s in finance – with honors – from Illinois State this August.
“It was an absolute pleasure to coach Nick over these past two years,” Muller said. “Since Nick will be graduating this summer – in just three years – he is eligible to play immediately while pursuing his MBA (Master of Business Administration). I fully support Nick and his desire to earn a ‘top-50’ business degree while finishing his basketball career over the next two years and wish him nothing but the best.”
A 2014 Missouri Valley Conference Scholar Athlete First Team selection, Zeisloft holds a 3.71 grade point average (GPA) in finance. Zeisloft was also a three-time MVC Scholar-Athlete of the Week and a four-time AFNI Honor Roll member.
“I want to thank everyone who has supported me over these three years at Illinois State, including the coaching staff, my teammates and fans,” Zeisloft said. “I am very fortunate to have met wonderful people here in the community who care about me as a person and a basketball player. After a lot of consideration, this is the best decision for me moving forward in life as I pursue my academic goals and future life ambitions.”
The LaGrange, Ill., native started 30 out of ISU’s 34 games in 2013-14, averaging 6.9 points and 3.4 rebounds. After redshirting in 2011-12, Zeisloft played in 25 games during the 2012-13 season.

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