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College Day:
A Corridor from Elementary School to Academia

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Every student may not be bound for a university, but there is no reason that any child, particularly in the elementary school years, shouldn't at least consider it. This is the philosophy behind "College Day," an activity that takes many forms but always focuses on making college more familiar and accessible to students. The fringe benefit of this forward focus? Thinking about education beyond high school may just make what happens today in the classroom a little more relevant for kids. Included: Three elementary schools share their unique approaches to the "College Day" experience!.

"A day like College Day is a true testament to the excitement students possess for learning and the excitement teachers have about being teachers," says Principal Matthew Joseph of Hill-Roberts Elementary School in Attleboro, Massachusetts. "Enthusiasm coupled with education gave 105 students a new educational experience."

A third grader and sixth grader share their plans for college with Principal Marco Villegas and Corona Elementary students at a College Day assembly.
Joseph's own college years left such a great impression on him that he is eager to share the "college experience" at every opportunity. This led to College Day, a day developed by teachers to break up the traditional curriculum and expose students to the expectations of college, on a small scale. For this program, which was held two days before the school's Christmas break, teachers raised the level of instruction and learning by offering college-style "courses."

"Our teachers, support staff, nurse, and counselor selected a course to teach for two 90-minute sessions for mixed third and fourth grade students," Joseph told Education World. "The instruction was at a very high level, with all classes creating a product from the class. Students were engaged, asked higher-level questions, and were motivated to learn."

Based on their background or personal interests, teachers designed intriguing courses that had educational merit and resulted in a tangible product. The most popular topics among the students were one-act plays, entomology, and advertising. In the entomology course, students made bug skeletons and labeled the parts, and in the course "Discovering Your Roots," participants made family trees. A finance and investing course involved the students in creating a portfolio of well-known stocks, while kids in another course wrote poetry. Every teacher put great effort into the preparation and facilitation of a course that would give the students a true representation of what it is like to take an elective in college.

COLLEGIAL CONVERSATION

Two weeks before the event, students selected the classes that interested them most from a book of course descriptions. From their first, second, and third choices, Joseph created a class list and student schedule for College Day. The students reported to their homerooms for attendance and then moved to their assigned classrooms for their first course of the day. Classes ranged from 8 to 22 students, and the two sessions occurred before lunch.

"I contacted and had 23 current college students come from various colleges to have lunch with our students," shared Joseph. "The college students emphasized that anyone can succeed [in college] if given the chance and with hard work. Our superintendent and high school principal spoke at lunch, as well as a local college admissions staff member."

Joseph's choice of timing for College Day was far from happenstance. He wanted to maximize student engagement at a time when he knew that the students would be anticipating vacation and not as likely to give their best effort. He also realized that the college students would already be on their holiday break and available to visit the school. Now teachers, parents, and students are eager to hold another College Day this spring.

"I was surprised by how easily our third and fourth grade students were able to work together and that the mixed classrooms did not slow down the instruction or diminish the expectations," reported Joseph. "In fact, having both third and fourth grade students together added new perspectives to discussions and instructional strategies."


College Day:
Three "Courses"

While they can be helpful, you don't need a nearby university or even a bus to bring the college experience to your school. These three schools have taken three unique approaches to getting students to consider college through activities like College Day.

Fifth graders from Calvert Elementary School in Prince Frederick, Maryland, visit a local campus of the College of Southern Maryland to engage in thought-provoking "courses" taught by members of the college faculty on College Day. They also receive certificates of admission to remind them to consider CSM when they graduate.

Corona Elementary students in Ontario, California, do visit local colleges, but more importantly they are encouraged daily to be "college bound." Principal Marco Villegas asks faculty members to consistently talk about the benefits and experience of going to college in the hope that every child will believe that higher education is a possibility. During its College Day observance, teachers and students don their college gear and take part in a rousing assembly with guest speakers and students who share their dreams of higher learning.

Hill-Roberts Elementary School creates its own college experience by setting aside the usual lessons for a College Day of high-level classes designed by staff members. For the kids in Attleboro, Massachusetts, it is a chance to see what college electives might be like and to talk with young people who are currently taking college courses.

College Day was so positive that Joseph hopes to add a third course session in the afternoon when it is repeated. Even two days before the event, when the students had just received their course assignments, he recognized the potential of College Day.

"I was outside on bus duty, and as the students left the school, I heard them saying, 'What class did you get?,' 'I can't wait for college day,' and 'Who is your instructor?'" Joseph recalled. "The students were excited about learning and were talking about College Day after school hours. At that moment, I knew that the day was going to be a success."

CHARTING A "COURSE"
FOR COLLEGE

"Exposure to college life is extremely important," says Principal Laurie Haynie. "It encourages students to think about their future and the impact of their actions now. It gives hope. It reiterates our expectations for all our students to be successful. It also helps us have conversations with students about defining success, and how success for each student will look different."

At Calvert Elementary School in Prince Frederick, Maryland, College Day takes the form of a visit to a nearby campus of the College of Southern Maryland (CSM) for the school's fifth graders. The students explore careers in science and technology through "courses" presented by CSM faculty members.

"The professors are enthusiastic individuals who have a history of success with students of all ages," reports Joann Roberts, an elementary science supervisor who coordinates College Day. "They represent topic areas that make the bridge between the knowledge the students bring and the content they present. The professors are open to creating real-world problem solving activities that connect to various careers. The personalities of the instructors are key to the success of the program."

This year's event, which was dubbed "College Day 2016," was structured into three 45-minute sessions and a lunch. Current CSM students who are interested in careers in teaching served as helpers. Staff members who did not present courses came out to welcome the students upon arrival and celebrated with them when they received "certificates to college" from Dr. Bradley Gottfried, president of CSM, at the end of the day.

"Dr. Gottfried explained that when the students graduated in 2016, CSM would be there to accept all of them into college," Roberts recalled. "Their faces shone in amazement. It was at that very time that all students felt they could go to college. It was not a goal to be attained by a few, but for all of them. College Day wasn't just an event, it was invitation for a better tomorrow, and they knew the magnitude of it."

College Day demystifies the concept of college by providing real, hands-on experiences with a warm and encouraging faculty. Many students are surprised to see that real scientists do wear white lab coats, but they are still very much "real" people. Some CSM students who have assisted with College Day have visited the students' classrooms, and several are now volunteering in the school. Roberts would like to expand this program to include the eighth graders at Calvert Middle School to build a series of college experiences that grows from elementary to middle to high school.

"It makes perfect sense to me that as elementary school administrators we cultivate students' talents and share with them hopes and dreams and plans for the future," shared Haynie. "It makes what we do so much more powerful if students understand that what they do today impacts their tomorrow. But it doesn't start or stop there. It is an ongoing practice to establish with students' their self-worth, their strengths, and their responsibility to themselves to become the best that they can be."

A COLLEGE-BOUND CULTURE

College Day at Corona Elementary is a day when everyone at the Ontario, California, school comes together to acknowledge its broader focus on going to college. College students and recent graduates from local universities and colleges take part.

"We have a big assembly in which two or three college students speak to the entire student body," explains Dr. Marco Villegas, Corona's principal. "Speakers then go to classrooms for a more personal conversation and an opportunity for students to ask questions."

On College Day, students and teachers wear clothing with college logos or the school's own motto, "Corona Kids Are Going to College." Before the event, students are asked to pledge that they will do their best to go to college. They make posters that are displayed in the assembly area and join in the event by sharing why they want to go to college. Parents are invited to attend the assembly, and college counselors are on hand to provide information about college and financial aid.

Current college students and recent graduates speak to Corona Elementary students about the college experience on College Day.

For many students who seek higher education, the idea of going to college has been ingrained by parents or others from an early age. According to Villegas, many Corona Elementary students don't receive the "push" to get a college education until later in their school careers, and for some it comes too late.

"Providing students with a college-bound culture is a school-wide theme that we work on throughout the year," he stated. "We ask teachers to talk to their students about the importance of college in their daily lessons, and we invite parents to attend meetings with me to discuss the importance of higher education and what they can do in order to help inspire their children to go to college."

The students also see college life for themselves through field trips to universities. This year, the second and fourth graders toured UCLA, the fifth grade classes will visit California State University's San Bernardino campus, and the sixth graders will go to California Polytechnic State University.

"I have seen several students who were once always in trouble talk about how they want to go to college and recognize that in order to go to college they must start doing well in school," shared Villegas. "I have had children tell me stories about a college that they are studying and tell me that they believe that they will go to UCLA or Stanford." These are the moments that give Villegas confidence that his students are seeing a connection between their actions in school today and their plans for the future.

A College Day event is a great start, but Villegas knows that it takes a consistent emphasis on the benefits of higher education to make a lasting impact on children and their community. His school provides many events that drive the larger school family toward a college-bound culture. While college may not be for every student, Villegas thinks it should be something that all students consider.

"I strongly believe that we need to give every child the opportunity to go to college, and that opportunity starts in kindergarten," he added. "It also requires that parents be given the tools and information to help them guide their children at an early age."

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