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University president opens up scholarship to undocumented students

By Sean Powers/Illinois Public Media/University of Illinois President Michael Hogan says he has set up a scholarship fund that is available to students who are U.S. citizens and undocumented immigrants.

Students who are not living in this country lawfully have been ineligible for scholarships in Illinois, but that changed this month after Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation known as the Illinois Dream Act. The measure opens up privately funded college scholarships to illegal immigrants.

Sean Powers/Illinois Public Media/University of Illinois President Michael Hogan speaks at the Illini Union in Champaign in February 2011. Hogan recently opened up a scholarship to include undocumented students.

Local elementary school joins the Backpack Program

By Rubina Ali/For CU-CitizenAccess/ Food insecurity – not knowing where your next meal will come from – is a problem that more and more people face every day. Even children.

But a program right in Champaign County is providing relief to kids from families who experience food insecurity.

The BackPack Program sends in-need children home on Friday afternoons with backpacks full of food to make sure there’s enough to eat over the weekend. According to a 2009 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nearly 50 million people, including one in four children, struggle to get enough food to eat.

Rubina Ali/Social worker Mary Bragg hands fifth-grade student Tyrone Gordon a bag of food to take home over the weekend courtesy of the BackPack Program recently at Carrie Busey Elementary School. This was the first year the school had the BackPack Program, a national program that provides qualified students with supplement food during the weekends.

Bilingual teachers in demand under new state law

 By Rachel Buller/For CU-CitizenAccess – When Lily Jimenez arrives at her classroom each morning, she begins the day by switching over her calendar to the correct day of the week – in Spanish. At 9 a.m. on the dot, a dozen or so students trickle into the room, most toting backpacks bigger than they are. 

“Lunes, martes, miercoles, jueves,” the students start to sing in unison. Switching effortlessly between Spanish and English, Jimenez leads them in the song’s English counterpart. “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday…” 

File photo/A.M.Cole/Brian, a third grader in Lena Sacco's bilingual class, writes down observations he made during their science lesson on May 12, 2010.

Local book program supplies Illinois prisoners with hope, education

By Jessica Bourque / For CU-CitizenAccess — In a stuffy, dimly lit basement located in downtown Urbana, Ella Kinzie sits hunched over at a table, a pile of unopened letters by her side. She is hard at work, doing a job similar to Santa Claus’s, reading over wish lists and turning them into realities.

She sends a cookbook to Cristina, who wants to learn how to bake cupcakes, a Spanish- English dictionary to Alejandro, who longs to speak better English, and an advertising book to Maurice, who wishes to start his own business one day.  

“Even the most ordinary requests are special to me because it’s like these few books are going to make such a difference in that person’s quality of life,” said Kinzie.

Photo illustration/ A stack of Webster dictionaries. Dictionaries are the most requested book by Illinois prisoners from the Urbana-Champaign Books to Prisoners program

Odyssey Project offers doorway to higher education

By Matthew Schroyer/For CU-CitizenAccess — Tommy James can do almost anything when it comes to building a house. He can install plumbing, wire a home for electricity and set up walls. But something James can’t do at the moment is counsel children. That is, not without the right paperwork. 

“I have many skills, but no papers,” James, who’s been self-employed most of his life, said. “The way it is, you have to have papers. I have earned a lot of money, but messed up a lot.” 

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CU-CitizenAccess/University of Illinois LAS graduate student Desiree Triste-Aragon teaches Tommy James, an Odyssey Project student, web-based computer programs as part of the project.

The Odyssey Project: A history

By Matthew Schroyer/For CU-CitizenAccess — The Odyssey Project in Champaign is an affiliate of the Bard Clemente Course in the Humanities, which began offering college-level courses to economically and educationally disadvantaged adults in 1995 out of the Roberto Clemente Family Guidance Center in Manhattan, N.Y. Since then, courses under the Bard Clemente name have been taught more than 100 times, and in 14 states and the District of Columbia. 

Like the Bard Clemente Course, the Odyssey Project gives all students free instruction and course materials, such as textbooks and flash drives to save computer documents.

The Odyssey class of 2009-2010, pictured, had a 48 percent graduation rate, an improvement over the previous year. Odyssey instructors have been working to increase retention in the free program, which grants college credits in the humanities

Bilingual programs see growth, challenges

By A.M. Cole—Evelin Luna carries herself with an air of confidence uncommon for a 15-year-old. She is comfortable around adults, aware of the issues concerning the local Latino community and unafraid to address the Urbana School Board in her native language. It wasn’t always so.

A.M. Cole/ Brian, a third grader in Lena Sacco's bilingual class, writes down observations he made during their science lesson on May 12, 2010.

Cash crunch again threatens local Boys and Girls Club

CHAMPAIGN --- For the fourth time this decade, the Don Moyer Boys & Girls Club is appealing for community help to keep its doors open.

The News-Gazette/Daezyah Woodland, 13, of Rantoul plants zinnias Friday alongside Kate Metz of Champaign, a master gardener intern. Children and staff with the Don Moyer Boys & Girls Club planted the "prosperity garden" Friday with members of the University of Illinois Extension's Master Gardeners on North First Street, just north of the Champaign Police Station.

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