Thinking ‘Big’ for Wabash County kids

October 6th, 2013

Published: October 6, 2013 3:00 a.m.

Thinking ‘Big’ for Wabash County kids

Initiative puts early emphasis on college-preparation efforts

Courtney Tritch

When children have a savings account in their name, they are seven times more likely to attend college. So what if we gave kindergarten students a 529 savings account with $25 as seed money?

That is the question that designers of the Wabash County Promise posed as they considered how to help students raise their educational expectations.

Wabash County is thinking big.

They have taken the region’s Big Goal, through the Vision 2020 initiative, to heart.

The Big Goal is a 10-county effort to increase to 60 percent the number of residents with a two-year or four-year degree or industry-recognized credential. Currently, the region stands at 35 percent.

The Wabash County YMCA is spearheading the Wabash County Promise, and Parkview Health is providing the seed money. Manchester University has also stepped up to show kids how their future could look.

On Sept. 27, more than 1,600 kindergarten through third graders visited Manchester’s campus, touched art, saw a chemistry experiment with chemicals that “blew up” and wore T-shirts that said “I am a promise student.” They walked around the mall as a symbol of their “walk into the future.” Four of them won an additional $529 to go in their savings accounts.

The majority of these kids were on a college campus for the first time ever.

The result of the Wabash Promise? Wabash County has a higher percentage of K-3 students with a 529 account than any other county in the U.S.

And Wabash County didn’t stop there. The Community Foundation of Wabash County was the first foundation in the region to officially align with the Big Goal. They are encouraging grant seekers to align their programs with the Big Goal because they know we are stronger together.

“It is inspiring to be a part of the innovation happening in Wabash County and see the spark of opportunity we’re creating in these kids. Instilling the desire for lifelong learning at such a young age is vital to our region’s long-term educational efforts,” said Jo Young Switzer, president of Manchester University and member of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership’s Regional Opportunities Council.

Wabash County is an excellent example of efforts around the region to reach the Big Goal and align efforts to Vision 2020. These efforts will enable the region to develop, attract and retain the 21st century talent our businesses need to grow and thrive.

Courtney Tritch is director of marketing for the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership. She wrote this for The Journal Gazette.