Welcome to college, sixth graders

It's never too early to get school kids on a college campus.

That's the thinking behind the "College in Six" program, which encourages middle-school teachers and administrators around Virginia to take sixth graders to visit colleges to engage in meaningful activities and learn more about the higher education experience.

Recently, Radford University's School of Teacher Education and Leadership (STEL) hosted more than 250 sixth-grade students from William Byrd Middle School in Roanoke to give them a taste of the college life.

"About 80 percent of these kids have never been on a college campus. We want to get them excited and thinking about going to college in six years," said STEL Professor Betty Dore. "We want them to get a feel of the campus. There are so many kids who think they'll never go to college, but if they get a chance to go to campus, they may get motivated."

Students from William Byrd Middle School visited RU in two groups over a two-day period on Oct. 21 and 22. "We had 119 sixth graders yesterday and 124 today," said Dore on day two of the field trips.

While at RU, the sixth graders were welcomed by Associate Vice President and Dean of Students Irvin Clark. "Please pay close attention today to everything and everybody you encounter," Clark said. "Ask questions, and really think about what you want to do with your life and how having a college degree will help you to achieve your personal goals."

Minutes later, the students embarked on an extensive campus tour that included a visit to the campus bookstore and lunch in Dalton Hall. Many of the sixth graders were impressed with the dining options in Dalton, including Tyler Dean. "I like how you get to pick different lunches," he said.

Following the tour, College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) Associate Dean Tamara Wallace spoke to the students about how they can begin preparing for college and the importance of making good choices.

"It's important for you to remember, right now as sixth graders – and I want every eye on me when I tell you this – right now the decisions that you make can impact you for the rest of your life," Wallace said. "It's always important to think and make good choices."

Wallace encouraged the students to talk about college with their parents, teachers and guidance counselor. "Your teachers have been to college. They can talk to you about their experiences," she said.

To wrap up the day, students made their way to Peters Hall for fun activities with students in RU's Health and Human Performance major.

William Byrd Middle School Principal Tammy Newcomb accompanied the students to RU both days. She said she plans for the school's sixth-grade students to make the trip to RU every year and stressed the importance of the College in Six program.

"Research shows that students who visit college campuses tend to take higher level courses in high school and have a higher chance of going to college," said Newcomb, a 1990 RU graduate.

William Byrd Middle School student Kasey McKee said she had never been to a college campus, and once she arrived, it was not what she expected.

What did she expect?

"Not this," she said, looking around at the rock climbing wall in Peters Hall. McKee and her friend Skylar Lindsley said they both expected a college campus to be like a high school.

"It's a really cool school. I like it that they have all this cool stuff to do, and I like the classes that they have. And I liked the bookstore, to shop," said an excited Lindsley. "And I like walking around and seeing everyone."

Classmates Dean and Tyler Hatfield are aiming toward careers as Major League Baseball players, but both know that could be a difficult challenge.

"But that's a long shot and you have to work hard [to get to the Major Leagues]," Hatfield said. "If I can't do that, I kind of want to be a physical therapist or something like that."

Dean also has a plan B. "And if that [pro baseball player] doesn't work out for me, I want to be an engineer," he said.

Nov 4, 2014