After 20 years in existence, the non-profit organization I Know I Can is slightly tuning its tone.
Two founding members and its director attended a Columbus City School District board meeting Dec. 16, and provided an update on the partnership between the organization and district.
The only college access program in Columbus, I Know I Can. began in 1988 by four area leaders as an effort to provide students who couldn’t afford higher education, the opportunity to do so.
According to co-founder Thekla “Teckie” Shackelford, the program began in order to “level the playing field” for all students to attend college and “to give students the motivation to go to college.”
The program begins early in a child’s educational career with a book given to second-graders in the district. The book introduces the importance of going to college after high school graduation. In the years leading up to graduation day, a student in the program participates in workshops, programs, and receives mentoring, counseling and advice on the overall college experience, including financial aid, career skills and pre-requisites.
I Know I Can assists students with last-dollar grants to leverage supplement additional financial assistance. To date, according to co-founder Bob Weiler, the organization has been able to provide $21.5 million in last dollar grants.
According to Shackelford, most of the college graduates who had participated in I Know I Can are first-generation college graduates.
Katina Fullen, executive director of the program, informed board members that the organization is going through a strategic alignment process “to assure we’ll be around for the next 20 years.”
“Over the course of 18 months, we have listened to lots of people,” Fullen said. “Anyone who has a stake in Columbus City Schools and I Know I can. We conducted 80 interviews and studied the five best college access programs in the country.”
The organization is in the process of changing its mission and core values to reflect its desire to see students complete their college education, not just attend college.
With the implementation of the Ohio Core, which implements more rigorous graduation requirements, beginning with the high school graduating class of 2014, I Know I Can is aligning its program with the district through this change, according to Fullen. The program is also reproducing program components of other successful college access programs in the country.
School board member W. Shawna Gibbs is a former I Know I Can participant. After the presentation, Gibbs remarked on her experience with the program.
“I’m proud to be an I Know I Can alum,” she said. “I would not have been able to go to school without I Know I Can.”