Spotlight: UI senior helps minority children think about college

BY EMILY HOERNER | MAY 11, 2011 7:20 AM

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Jasmyn Harrington will be the first member of her family to graduate from college, but she isn't stopping there. She plans to start law school in the fall at the University of Iowa.

The 21-year-old, a UI elementary-education major, has studied dropout rates of minorities through a summer research program at the UI. She said she is especially interested in the idea of minority teachers being role models for students to stay in school.

And as a minority student-teacher at Twain Elementary, she gets to be in that role.

Even in the third grade, some of her minority students have already ruled out higher education, she said.

"Of course, I've had a few of my students tell me that they're not going [to college]," Harrington said.

The Waterloo native said students will often say such things as "I'm not smart enough to go to college," but she tries to counter these thoughts by encouraging students to think about education in ways they never have and assuring them they can do it.

Many of her students don't have parents who went to college, so they don't see college as important or necessary, she said.

"I'll say such things as, 'We do this in college, and see, you're doing it, and you're only in the third grade,' " Harrington said.

She also uses her position as the president of the historically black sorority Zeta Phi Beta-Pi Kappa to try to encourage minority students to think about college.

Jessica Weckerly, one of Harrington's sorority sisters, said Harrington makes connections for the children so they being to believe learning is fun, including turning poetry lessons into rap lessons.

Harrington has also spearheaded a mentoring program for City High girls called Betas After Class.

"We get a chance to help girls from area high schools who don't have positive female influences in their lives, and they get to come and see how fun and life-changing college is," Weckerly said.

"[College] is not necessarily something that is negative and difficult, and they get to see that there are successful black women in college."

She said she wonders what brought her to the UI when many of her cousins came from the same opportunities and background and didn't even finish high school.

But Harrington said she has always planned on graduating from college because she has wanted to be a lawyer since the second grade.

"I just want to be the person who speaks for those who cannot speak for themselves," she said.
Harrington noted she wants to help children with civil rights issues.

Through her sorority, she has been able to work closely with children who have parents who have been incarcerated or who have themselves been incarcerated.

"We try to take them away from that life," she said.

Harrington said she has seen differences in the children she has helped, and she believes people can change as long as they want to.

One of Harrington's sorority sisters, Ventara Dillon, said Harrington has brought extra attention to children and minorities through the sorority's community-service projects.

"Jasmyn really embodies an advocate for equal opportunities for everybody," she said. "When she sets a goal, she always gets it done."

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