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Beyond the Books: UI fraternity prepares elementary boys for adulthood

Kirkwood students who are part of Kappa Kids learn a lesson on eating etiquette.

In school, kids are commonly asked, 'What do you want to be when you grow up?'

The answers range from accountant to zoologist, but studies show the most popular professions -- athlete, doctor, astronaut -- may be some of the most difficult ones to break into.

"The sad reality is not everybody's going to reach those goals," said Ricky Perla, a University of Iowa student and member of the fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi.

As a child, Perla wanted to be a professional athlete.

Now, as a college student, he is mentoring young kids with far-reaching aspirations about the importance of having a back-up plan.

"The earlier you get to somebody, the earlier you instill something, the more time they have to build on it and grow," said Perla. "Why not teach them that there's more to life than just being an athlete?"

In a partnership between Kappa Alpha Psi and Kirkwood Elementary School in Coralville, Perla is a volunteer for the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids Kappa Kids Program.

The program's coordinator, Brittaney Browning, is a special education teacher at Kirkwood, creating the program in 2014, her first year at the school.

"My roster my very first year here was nothing but boys," explains Browning, "so I knew like right away I wanted some males to come in and kind of just serve as that mentor and kind of give those leadership skills to them."

University mentors meet with the students twice each month, teaching the fifth and sixth grade boys the 'five wells': well-dressed, well-mannered, well-read, well-spoken, and well-traveled.

"It's basically teaching you etiquette, dress and all that," said T.J. Fice, a sixth grade Kappa Kid. "It teaches me how to be more of a young man."

Fice said he has always loved sports, including football and basketball, and hopes to become a professional basketball player. However, Fice said he has developed a fallback, crediting Kappa Kids.

"If that doesn't work out, [I want to be a] game animator," said Fice.

He's not alone in his ambitions, as sixth graders Randy Causey and Jesus Zambrano also aspire to play in the NBA.

Both said they've thought about the possibilities, but recognize the importance of a back-up plan.

"There's a chance I could get injured," said Zambrano, "so what I want to go to school for is to be a lawyer."

Causey said he'd love to become a basketball coach, if being a player doesn't work out.

"I want to go to college," said Causey, regardless of where his athletic career takes him. "I want to get a great education."

Fice said he hopes to go to Duke University, known for its historic basketball program currently led by Coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Zambrano said the program has taught him a great deal, preparing him for junior high school and beyond.

"You don't want to be with the other kids falling back," said Zambrano. "You want to be successful and be ahead of other kids."

Perla said he wishes he'd had guidance from college students when he was in elementary school.

Browning seconds that sentiment.

"I would love to see it at other schools as well," said Browning, "but we've definitely seen the impact it's made on our kids here."

The boys aren't the only ones receiving college mentorship, as female students are offered an opportunity to be a part of Delta Academy, with the same leadership focus.

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