BELOIT - "Oh the Places You'll Go" is not only the title of a Dr. Seuss book, as it was also the guiding theme for this year's Beloit College Help Yourself Pre-Collegiate Summer Program.
As part of Help Yourself Programs, students get preparation for college and go on many adventures thanks in part to the creativity and dedication of Director of Help Yourself Programs Regina Hendrix.
Senior Tionda Yarborough, who wants to attend Tennessee State University to study biology to be a physician, called Hendrix enthusiastic, unapologetic, outgoing, encouraging, outstanding, overachieving and well-accelerated.
"She teaches us leadership skills and how to do things ourselves," said Senior Emily Severiano, who wants to become a pilot and double major in aviation and environmental science.
"I like how we explore so much," said junior Alyssa Harmon, who wants to study psychology at the University of Minnesota.
"Help Yourself has exposed me to different colleges and other things outside of Beloit," said senior Radonis Smith, who wants to study business and be an entrepreneur.
This year, students in the Pre-Collegiate program flew to Florida where they visited the University of Tampa, Florida Southern College and Bethune-Cookman University. Their more memorable events were indoor skydiving and ziplining over live alligators.
"We all got to sit on an alligator too," Severiano said.
"It was so frightening but really interesting to feel the animals and know what they do," added junior Imelda Dominguez, who wants to study criminal law and become a criminal justice lawyer.
In 2017, Hendrix's Pre-Collegiate students went to New York and in 2018 they went to Los Angeles with a theme of "Help Yourself Goes to Hollywood" where they visited University of Southern California, Whittier College and Universal Studios. As part of their theme, they worked with the Beloit International Film Festival and the Castle to produce a short film prior to departure.
The college tours and travel for Help Yourself students is the culmination of years of mentorship and support.
Students get nominated for admittance in the program during the fifth grade. Qualifying students are low-income, first-generation college aspirants who show strong academic and leadership skills. There are usually about 15-20 students per grade level in the program.
Once accepted, students join the Mezzo Academy for grades six through eight where they are introduced to the importance of higher education by Mezzo Academy Assistant Director Alma Zamora-Yarborough. During middle school, students benefit from time with Beloit College Help Yourself tutors. On Thursdays, the middle schoolers get picked up and participate in a workshop on the Beloit College campus, run by Beloit College students.
Hendrix is always brainstorming new activities to spice up the program and challenge students.
One year, during the Mezzo Academy's summer program, she had a theme of "Dream Big." Students visited empty building in Beloit and give their vision for their usage. Her students had to create a marketing plan, song and architectural plans for the buildings.
As part of the "bus scavenger hunt" students had to find different places in Beloit using public transportation. Hendrix noted 99% of her students had not been on a city bus.
"We had to plan our route and learn how to read the bus map. Now I know how to use the city bus. It's pretty practical," Harmon said.
Themes for the Mezzo Academy over the years have included the Mezzo Murder Mystery, Jurassic World and the Mezzo Circus.
Stephanie King, former director of Help Yourself Programs and Upward Bound, said Hendrix has demonstrated great love and passion for the community as shown by her projects and ideas.
Hendrix said she tries to incorporate her broad range of interests such as the arts, music and science, into the curriculum in a fun way.
By the time kids get to high school they are attending workshops once a month on Saturdays ranging from finances to ACT preparation and are exploring ways to get scholarships for college. Students are required to apply to at least six different postsecondary institutions of different costs and size.
Senior Antoinesha Smith, who wants to study nursing at Xavier University of Louisiana, said she didn't know how to fill out college applications before Help Yourself Programs.
Severiano said Hendrix finds fun activities such as ziplining to take students out of their comfort zone, teaches leadership skills and shows students how to do things for themselves.
During the height of college exploration time in October and November, Hendrix is taking students to visit schools almost every weekend. During the spring, she is often driving them to college.
"Regina is a second mom," Alyssa Harmon added.