Getting students on board



WILLIAMSTOWN -- A barrier-breaking board game designed to help school children reach for a higher education is looking to expand its horizons in the digital world.

'Quest for College,' created by Gina Coleman, is now celebrating its 10th anniversary in Berkshire County. The game uses question cards to prompt students through the decision-making process of getting through grade and high schools and going on to college.

Since 1999, the game has been used in 26 states as well as Hong Kong. Coleman, who is presently the associate dean of international students at Williams College, is now closing in on a plan to make and distribute an interactive online version of the game accessible for free to local schools and students.

She will also be establishing a blog this fall to answer questions about college for students and families.

"Most schools don't have an early college awareness curriculum. And when it comes to college, you need to get information to students as early as possible," said Coleman, a mother of two small children.

The online version is being designed by Jack Turner and Adam Grossman, who worked on the Sol LeWitt exhibition at Mass MoCA. The game is due out in this fall with English and Spanish editions.

Currently, Coleman is raising funds through her nonprofit company to ensure free online access of the game over the next two years. So far, the company has raised $25,000 and is looking for $10,000 more.

The first game prototype was piloted in Mount Everett Regional School in Sheffield, and has earned positive feedback about students' retention of the information given in the game.

In January 2000, Coleman and fellow Williams College alumnus Matthew Swanson taught a Winter Study service-learning course that put Williams students into local 9th- and 10th-grade classrooms to play the game and interact with the students. The Winter Study course has since continued, again with positive feedback.

Shelley Williamson, of Pittsfield, a senior and arts studio and French literature major at Williams, has been involved with administering Quest for College since she was a freshman.

"I've played the game at schools all around the county and I think one of the huge obstacles in getting to college is that a lot of people don't know about the financial aid portion and what they can do to make it a feasible option," said Williamson.

"One of the things that gets stuck in your head at a young age is that college is expensive," she said. "And when you think about it that way, you begin to think 'Why bother with college.' "

Coleman said she designed the game because of this perception -- she wanted to make the pursuit of higher education fun, not fearsome.

By giving students access online, she hopes the game will be played at home when there's no time in school. She also hopes it encourages parents to become more involved in the college process.

Coleman, who was raised by her grandmother, saw her own classmates struggle with school in the South Bronx. She said she found her educational opportunity in the A Better Chance (ABC) program, which brought her to Massachusetts. Because of this, Quest for College has become her personal mission to help kids succeed.

Said Coleman, "It's afforded me a great opportunity to give back to students like myself. I want people to approach this as a fun thing. But this game is also about options and having something more."