By CHANSE WATSON
KELLOGG — Making it possible so that a local student could get their associate’s degree completely in the Silver Valley without having to go over the hill — it sounds like a bold idea, but that’s exactly what Brenda Hamilton and the rest of the staff at North Idaho College’s Silver Valley Outreach Center are shooting for.
Hamilton, a North Idaho native, was brought on as the new coordinator for the Silver Valley Center in mid-June and is wasting no time shaking things up.
“We want NIC Silver Valley to be a true resource for the entire Valley — young and old alike,” she said. “I want to open up NIC’s resources to the Silver Valley so that any educational needs they have, any personal development they have, we can provide that. I really want to see this center just hopping. I want to see my classrooms full of students — engaged and excited.”
Hamilton’s excitement for progress could be seen at the Center’s Day of Welcoming on Tuesday, where staff and students alike gathered to celebrate the beginning of the fall 2018 semester.
In addition to providing food and refreshments, the event allowed upcoming students the opportunity to ask questions and ensure everything was in order for the start of the school year. The Day of Welcoming was also a great chance for potential students to see what the center can offer (and what may be on the horizon).
Hamilton said that NIC Silver Valley has come a long way since it first began and it already offers a wide array of programs and courses for anyone of any age or education level.
“The Silver Valley Center opened its doors on Feb. 15, 2005. It was a joint collaboration with NIC and the city of Kellogg to bring higher education services to the area,” she said. “It initially offered five classes its first semester. The following semester it offered seven NIC classes. Since opening our doors, we have expanded our services to not only offering 10 NIC classes each semester; we also offer dual enrollment for high school juniors and seniors; GED classes; workforce training classes including CNA training, Mine Safety refresher, Flagging Certification and Social Security classes; tutoring; proctor testing for NIC and LCSC (Lewis-Clark State College); etc.”
For younger students, dual enrollment classes give them the opportunity to receive college credit while still high school. As part of her push to increase the number of programs at the Silver Valley Center, Hamilton sees the value in investing in these courses.
“We want to see a huge expansion of dual enrollment,” she said. “We have it for all three school districts in the Silver Valley. We want to see their students and we want to support the high schools.”
To encourage students and parents even more to get involved, the state of Idaho offers financial aid assistance for those kids that are dually enrolled. Hamilton said that the state provides $75 per credit to theses dual credit students, which is convenient since NIC only charges $65 per credit.
“That potentially is two years of free college and, as a mom (I claim seven between kids, adopted children and stepchildren), that is a beautiful thing.”
Fighting the stigma of college being expensive for anyone in general, Hamilton stressed that her staff is available to help find funding options such as grants, scholarships or discounts.
“We don’t want money to be a barrier for anybody,” she said.
When Hamilton accepted the position of coordinator in mid-June of this year, she recognized that there were going to be some challenges in growing the center — both with the center itself and the community its in.
With attendance at the Silver Valley Center low as of late, combined with the departure of the former coordinator, many wondered if a closure was on the way.
Thankfully for those looking to pursue higher education in the Silver Valley, that is not the case.
Hamilton is happy to report that the center’s fall semester enrollment for this year is three times higher than compared to last year. Even with this improvement though, she wants to do much more and get the word out.
“We have a wide range of stuff here and my goal is to bring more,” she said. “We are not going anywhere and we are going to expand. If we hear (students) want something, I just need six people in the seats to advocate for that class to be out here.”
This push to expand both course options and enrollment would, in theory, lead to completing one of her ultimate goals.
“If someone from the Silver Valley wants to get their two-year degree here, they don’t have to go over the hill,” she said. “We are hoping to be able within the next year to offer you everything you need to get your associate’s degree here at the college.”
Working to make the NIC Silver Valley Center an active player in the community (aside from having students from there), Hamilton wishes to provide more opportunities and maybe even link up with industries that wish to set up locally.
“We realize that the Silver Valley is a great small community, but it has its pluses and minuses (such as) it can be isolated and not have many resources,” she explained. “NIC can help with that. If there’s industry that wants to come here, but they need their workforce trained in a certain way, we want to be able to offer that.”
As for how she feels about the community and the people, Hamilton couldn’t be more complimentary.
“Everybody is so friendly and has been so warm and welcoming,” she said. “I love the Kellogg area. I’m from North Idaho, I have lived here my entire life — born and raised. Love the area and love NIC. I think education is the No. 1 tool to get anywhere in life.”
The North Idaho College Silver Valley Outreach Center is located at 323 Main St. in Kellogg and can be reached by phone at 208-783-1254.