The Phuture Phoenix program began in 2002, founded by Cyndie Shepard and Ginny Riopelle. The idea for the program was sparked by a conversation Cyndie had with a fifth grade boy at a Green Bay elementary school. The conversation centered around the idea that students who attend schools where a large majority are low-income need to be shown what college could look like for them to initiate the dream of pursuing post-secondary education in the future.
Ginny, a longtime Green Bay community member, secured the funding for the program’s first initiative, a large scale field trip to the UW-Green Bay campus. Cyndie, then the Chancellor’s wife at UW-Green Bay, worked to find college students to take fifth graders around campus as role models as well as faculty and staff on campus to host the fifth grade guests. In the first year, Phuture Phoenix hosted over 400 students on campus.
As the program grew, an education course was added to the curriculum for all pre-service educators at UW-Green Bay. This course educates students about critical teaching dispositions, mentor training and requires 35 hours of tutoring and mentoring in the field for students in the Phuture Phoenix partner schools. The tutoring and mentoring went beyond the vision that the field trip provided--it offered help to students struggling in core academic areas that they would need in order to gain college admission.
Historically, high school graduation rates in Northeast Wisconsin have been lower than the state counterparts, and research shows that long-term attitudes toward higher education and life-long learning begin to take shape as early as fifth grade. The Phuture Phoenix program was initiated to encourage school attendance, inspire academic success and alert young people to the wide open opportunities of creating their future to involve higher education.
What began with roughly 400 5th graders over ten years ago has now expanded to two annual field trip days hosting over 1400 students. The class that began tutoring and mentoring in only a few local schools now serves ten buildings with over 175 UW-Green Bay students enrolled each year.