Students in MCC’s Summer Jumpstart have ‘all the support in the world’

Project Success director Eric Thompson (right) talks with Summer Jumpstart students as their day at MCC-Penn Valley gets underway. Most are 2018 Kansas City Public Schools graduates.

Eleven new Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley students are spending the summer acquiring success skills, brushing up on math and being introduced to campus resources.

The eight-week, half-day program is called Project Success Summer Jumpstart. As the name suggests, it’s an offshoot of Penn Valley’s Project Success, which provides a variety of support services for select students who are low income, have a documented disability or are the first generation of their family to attend college.

“It’s going to get me ready for school in the fall,” Jumpstart student Lillian Sims told us recently as the students’ day got underway. Sims, a 2018 Paseo Academy graduate, plans to eventually transfer to Wichita State University and become a NICU nurse.

She and classmate Nicholas Fox Serrano, an East High School grad, also talked about a recent “True Colors and Values” assessment they’d taken. Serrano was excited because the results showed his personality is a good match for his chosen profession: physical therapist.

Before students headed off to class that day, the discussion centered on two topics: an upcoming cookout for Jumpstarters and guests, and where they should go on a field trip. Students’ ideas including swimming, Six Flags and Miami, but the Negro Leagues Baseball and American Jazz museums are better bets.


The centerpiece of this high school-to-college “bridge” program is READ 108, a credit class taught by Millie Nottingham. Although “read” is right there in the title and Nottingham is a reading instructor, READ 108 is not primarily a reading course. Its title is College Success Skills, but Nottingham, who spent 25 years in the corporate world (AT&T), also injects a whole lot of real-world life skills into the class as well.

That includes the importance of showing up. After a student blamed his third tardy on a late city bus, Nottingham informed him he needs to be catching an earlier bus.

“We have real discussions because they need to get ready for life,” says Nottingham, who calls this group of students positive and smart.

If College Success Skills sounds a lot like COLL 100, the required one-credit-hour First Year Seminar, it should. But READ 108, a three-credit course, takes a deeper dive into subjects like time management, note-taking, test preparation, communication with instructors, and campus resources.

“We felt Ms. Millie’s class would be the glue that bonds (Jumpstart students) to campus before classes start this fall,” says Eric Thompson, director of Project Success.

The Jumpstarters are in Nottingham’s class from 9:30 to 10:45 a.m. After that, they spend 90 minutes in either Math Boot Camp (Monday/Wednesday) or workshops (Tuesday/Thursday) on topics such as academic planning, financial literacy, career services and leadership opportunities.

Jumpstart students spend 90 minutes twice a week improving their math skills with computer-assisted instruction.

In the Math Boot Camp, students work on computers using an online program called PLATO. About half of MCC students have to take at least one developmental math class before they’re ready for the required course such as College Algebra. For many students, “math is the dragon they’ve got to slay,” Thompson says. (Penn Valley has been offering summer Math Boot Camps for Project Success students  for years.)

A post-test at the end of July may demonstrate that, thanks to time spent with PLATO, some Jumpstart students can move up to a higher-level math class this fall. The main goal, however, is to give them more confidence in their math skills, Thompson says.

“These students are making an investment in themselves and their futures by attending in the summer,” says Yvette Sweeney, dean of student success and engagement at MCC-Penn Valley.

“They will have expertise based on the skills they’ve developed in the program, and they can share that expertise with other new students this fall as a way to ‘pay it forward’. ”

Jumpstart is an MCC pilot program funded by the College. The participants received institutional scholarships that cover READ 108 tuition and a loaner textbook for the course.

These students will be tracked as they continue their college careers at MCC-Penn Valley, with the hope being that they have higher rates of retention and completion — that they stay in school and graduate — than the typical student.

This summer’s participants are mostly new grads from Kansas City Public Schools, but Thompson would like to see the program expanded in future years to include more students and more schools.

“Summer bridge” programs can be found at colleges and universities across the country, he says. At residential campuses such as UMKC, students typically live in a dorm together during the program. A chance to form friendships before the start of the school year is another benefit of such programs.

The MCC Jumpstart students “have very much formed an identity in these (first) two weeks,” Thompson says. “They almost feel like everyone’s little brothers and sisters. They know they have all the support in the world.”