Early College Awareness in Elementary School

By Victoria Jasztal on February 24, 2010

Ten years ago, it may not have seemed possible to expose elementary students to the prospect of college. However, there are many elementary teachers across the nation who have taken the initiative to discuss colleges and even have their students visit a university campus. This topic has intrigued me lately. When the Scholastic advisors met in New York City this past May and Eric Antuna, the grades 1-2 teacher advisor, mentioned a program called No Excuses that is incorporated at his school, it seriously made me think twice. Between Eric and fourth grade teacher Heather Renz in Oregon, I have become a strong advocate for early college awareness. 

In my classroom this week, I had my students vote on a question: Have you ever stepped foot on a college campus? After 12 out of 20 students voted "yes", I was fascinated because I wanted to know how they had been exposed. Several students responded that their siblings and parents have attended the local community college, Pasco-Hernando Community College. They had stepped foot in the McKethan Library and thought the campus was quite large. Some students then went on to say they had visited the University of South Florida in Tampa, University of Florida in Gainesville, and Florida State University in Tallahassee because of graduations, football games, and the fact their parents had driven through the area.

I then went on to say I was the first in my family to graduate from a four-year college, which fascinated them, and how my grandparents had always given me brochures about St. Augustine from the time I was a fourth grade student. It was as if Flagler College was being drilled into my mind; I remember being incredibly amazed by the 1800s architecture. I also remember when my eighth grade United States History teacher, Mr. Donald Kern, told me about the College of William and Mary in Virginia, encouraging me to learn more about the campus. By November 1999, though, I had applied early to Flagler and was formally accepted on Freshman Orientation Day. It seems like forever that I have given my fourth grade students brochures about St. Augustine and Flagler, but never before this year did I think about discussing what they had to do to be admitted to college. It always seemed like a duty that high school teachers had.

My students then went on to write down observations, inferences, and variables about the data. One important variable I had to mention was, "What if we only focused on universities rather than on community colleges as well?" Less students would have voted "yes". Besides that, what if we had focused on just girls or boys? We then discovered that out of the twelve students who voted yes, six were boys and six were girls. For the "no" vote as well, half the eight were boys and half were girls. Discussing the variables made us examine the data more than we ever had before. Additionally, we made a pie graph (splitting up the data into about 60% and 40%) and wrote out algebraic expressions as well as word problems. Next week, we will be comparing data with the fifth grade advanced class.

So it gets even better. I recently went back to Mrs. Renz's website and read the newspaper article about when her students visited Oregon State University. She also had posted photos of her students' experience.  I read about how her students visited the wave pool and tested their tsunami evacuation shelters, saw Reser Stadium, eaten in the food court, and even stepped into her daughter Hillary's dorm room. After a few minutes, I thought about whether I could ever make an experience like that possible for my students, so I contacted the University of Florida to see what they could make possible for us. They have a museum called the Florida Museum of Natural History and several research facilities on their campus, particularly the Energy Technology Incubator in the Materials Science and Engineering department. The professors e-mailed me to say they would be ecstatic to have my students visit! I was even more ecstatic because I had taken a huge chance by e-mailing them that elementary students may possibly be visiting their campus. I did not know whether the professors at the University of Florida had ever dealt with elementary-aged groups before, so I was highly impressed.

So in this awesome week of revelation regarding early college awareness, I am going to share some ideas with you about how you can expose your students to the prospect of attending college: 

1. Of course, share photos you have taken when visiting college campuses. Share photos from when you were in college as well and of your graduation. Below is a picture of the Florida Field at the University of Florida.

IMG_5829 

2. Obtain maps of different colleges/universities and incorporate them into a math or social studies lesson. Of course, students have to learn about grids and need to learn about reading various types of maps.
3. Read these articles from the Baltimore County Public Schools and Joyce Reed (PDF).
4. Glance at this document from I am Going to College. Here are a few of my favorite ideas:

  • Collect a list of where each staff member attended college- announce the school, city and state of 1-3 staff members per week. You can even have your students go around the school to ask several teachers and then complete a geography-related lesson where they have to locate the cities in which the colleges are located.
  • The Learner's Creed includes an added college reference.
  • Have a "Wall of Fame" in the school hallway where photos of famous individuals are posted along with the name of the college or university that they atttended.
  • Assign each student in the 4th and 5th grades a university/college to research and report back to the
  • class on (sports, activities, how to apply, grades needed, tuition assistance, etc).
  • Have a mini-career fair for your students.
  • Tell students this quote, "My brain still has low mileage." I am almost considering making a poster with this quote!

5. 101 Early College Awareness Activities is yet another document you may enjoy. This document has a HUGE variety of ideas that seem quite simple to implement.
6. College Zone has created documents for middle school students that intermediate elementary students may be able to use. 
7. E-mail professors by visiting university websites to perhaps send your students information, visit your classroom to assist with a lesson or give a talk, or show your students research facilities/classrooms/etc. by having them visit the university.

Below are three photos of my fourth grade students holding awards from their second-quarter awards ceremony. I envision my students becoming quite successful as I glance at these photos:

Awards1
Awards2
Awards3

One day, your current students may be tremendous leaders in your community, state, or even nation. They may discover a revolutionary health-related cure or discover the solution to a pressing challenge in the scientific field. Imagine, just mentioning college and possibly bringing them to a campus may have encouraged them all the more to become extremely successful in this world.

One last fascinating site of the week:
You may enjoy reading this newspaper article about a competition called Odyssey of the Mind. I was just made aware of this competition in the past week when perusing Google.com. I found this website because Florida students compete at the University of Central Florida!

Comments

What about kids who can't go to college or what about kids who do better out of college, I really think college will be our country down fall

Hi, Vera! I believe you can just click on the post and find the URL at the top of the page to post into your Twitter status. Twitter will shorten the URL for you to make it a bit.ly link.

Besides that, here is our photo album from the Gainesville trip: http://msjasztalsfourthgrade.shutterfly.com/1644

I would love to share this article on Twitter. Can you give me a link?

best

Dr. Vera K. Swade

Karen, I agree with you wholeheartedly! I REALLY want to start an Odyssey of the Mind team next year, if it is possible. It embraces so many of my philosophies! Besides that, I cannot wait to see what happens when my students receive this awesome exposure to college! - Victoria

Really liked your post about college awareness. I may give this a try for next year! As for Odyssey of the Mind, all I can say is WOW! I have been involved as a parent coach for 6 years and it has an incredibly positive effect on kids! I hope you look into it more and jump in. It can be a truly life changing opportunity for children.

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