NORTH MANCHESTER -- The amount of students walking across Manchester University more than doubled Friday as more than 1,600 Wabash County K-3 students visited the campus for the “Walk Into My Future” event, an extension of the Wabash County Promise.

The Promise is an initiative and collaboration with its roots in the Wabash County YMCA and its community partners, such as churches, schools, businesses and people.

The event brought the Wabash County students to the campus and sent them through several educational stations, where they dissected hearts, mixed chemicals and participated in other activities.

The purpose of the Promise is to begin the discussion early of sending county students to post-secondary education by getting the ball rolling with awareness and a college savings plan, something that a local Indiana Department of Education outreach coordinator has never seen before.

“I was speechless when they told me about this,” DOE official Doug Thieme, Huntington, said. “To have an initiative like this across three school districts in a county and the teamwork and the involvement as one unit in promoting further education for students this age…it’s something we all should be doing.

“I haven’t seen anything close to this in this area of the state.”

In August, the region’s only non-profit health system, Parkview Health, Fort Wayne, donated $25 to each college savings plan set up in Wabash County, according to Clint Kugler, one of the co-organizers of Wabash County Promse.

The Promise program makes a pledge that for every $25 a student raises in their account, the community will match it with a $75 donation.

In July 2013, 6 percent of K-3 students in Wabash County had college savings accounts. Now, more than 65 percent of students have an account.

“It’s powerful to see all of these kids out here. It’s really the culmination of what we’ve been working on for the past year,” said Kugler, who also is the CEO of the Wabash County YMCA. “In some ways it feels like a culmination, but in reality it’s the kickoff for the Wabash County Promise and these kids.

“For many of them it’s their first time being on a college campus. Two thousand lives and the trajectory of their lives are being affected by today.”

The superintendents of Wabash City, Metropolitan School District of Wabash County and Manchester Community all met on “The Mall,” a large grassy area in the middle of campus, to talk about the thousands of students before them in sequenced shirts and smiles.

“The first thing that’s amazing is the waves of colors,” Metro Superintendent Sandra Weaver said of the blue, black, orange and red that blanketed the green grass. “The next amazing thing is that they’re all getting to see the university campus and that begins that thought process. I hope this is an event we do annually.”

Manchester Superintendent Bill Reichhart followed up on Weaver’s comments.

“From my perspective, we take kids to the circus and different field trips,” Reichhart said. “But I’m sure when these kids go home later today they’re going to talk a lot about what they saw, what they did and it creates an awareness. I think that’s what all of us wanted to create from this event: an awareness about the future, whether it’s at a technical school, vocational school or whatever.”

“I’ve had some kids say this is the best day ever,” Weaver interjected.

“Really, it’s an overwhelming feeling,” Wabash Superintendent Jason Callahan said. “We’ve been working on this for such a long time. It goes from theory to practice. Theory has been up to this day. Practice is today.

“To see them here enjoying themselves on the lawn of the university is overwhelming. We’re trying to change the cultural mindset of postsecondary education…that it’s important and attainable.”

The Friday event was funded and sponsored by Beauchamp McSpadden Insurance.

“This took the insight of a lot of good minds,” Beauchamp Chairman Mike Beauchamp said. “These kids are our future now so it’s just a privilege to be any part of it. I’m thrilled that this is happening in Wabash County and with Manchester University.

“I think this is going to be an example for the whole nation and I’m proud to see it (here).”

Beginning at noon on the south end of The Mall, several speakers walked on stage to address visitors on what the event means to the kids, their families and the community.

The first of those speakers, University President Jo Young Switzer, was thrilled to host the waves of chaperones, mentors, students and volunteers.

“We are so excited to see these kids on this campus because planting the seed about education early makes all of the difference in the world,” Switzer said. “I’m a true believer in that. Whether they decide to go to college, a two-year program or whatever, thinking about it early is fabulous. To see them here and hear them is beyond what I ever could have imagined. I love it.”

Shortly after Switzer’s address, Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock voiced his praise of the program.

Before he took the stage, he also commented on the scene before him.

“This is incredible. Certainly in the state of Indiana this is the largest event we’ve ever seen for inspiring young people to get to college. It’s great,” Mourdock said. “We need to inspire everyone to think that college and education after high school is something they can achieve.

“It’s about removing the excuses of not being able to further a person’s education and letting people know they’re expected to excel.”

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