St. Paul is trying to open the door to higher education opportunities for all of its students.
The Doorway recently opened in a room at the Dayton's Bluff Recreation Center to provide students with information, guidance and skills for college, career and internship options. A second Doorway location will open at the Sun Ray Library next month.
"No matter who you are in St. Paul, we're here to support you," said Kari Denissen, a youth project manager for the Parks and Recreation Department. The Doorway is aimed toward students from sixth grade through high school and adults.
The Dayton's Bluff center is open after school and offers resources such as financial aid advice, college program guides and GED preparation. Speakers will be invited, and college students are being sought to volunteer as mentors.
The idea came about from two sources: a roundtable of college officials convened by Mayor Chris Coleman and a group of concerned kids who make up the Second Shift Youth Commission. Both groups said college access and awareness were major concerns for St. Paul kids, and soon the Doorway was born.
Coleman said he wants to make clear to younger kids that higher education is an option.
"It doesn't take very much; we just need to plant the seed," he said. The key, he said, is to get students enrolled in a program that they can successfully complete.
The mayor touted the program in his state of the city address Wednesday.
Dohneshia Moran, a ninth-grader at Harding High School, has been dropping by the center nearly four times a week since it opened. She recently completed her first résumé and has been looking for potential summer jobs.
"This is a great way to get help," she said.
The Doorway isn't meant to replace college resources at schools, but to offer a place for kids to get more information in an environment where they might be more comfortable.
Fatima Fisher, the Doorway coordinator, said a lot of kids at the rec center for sports or after-school programs have come into the Doorway out of curiosity and came back because of interest. They have folders that stay at the center that contain checklists of activities, such as setting up e-mail accounts, creating a résumé and doing career exploration exercises. But before students can get to any of those activities or working on a computer, Fisher said, homework needs to be done. She works to ensure that with a watchful eye and a kindly reminder.
The centers are funded mostly through grants and donations, said Jessica Ayers-Bean, an education aide to Coleman. The hope, she said, is that more will open around the city as demand grows.
Chris Havens • 651-298-1542