Middle schoolers go to college… for a day

John David Cooley wants to be an inventor when he grows up. He has many great ideas.

"I want to invent a medicine that will cure cancer," said Cooley, a sixth grader at William Byrd Middle School.

For his plans to materialize, Cooley knows he needs a solid education. He got an early start on visiting colleges when he and his classmates from William Byrd Middle visited Radford University in two groups over a two-day period on Oct. 21 and 22. It's the second consecutive year teachers and administrators from the school have taken sixth grade students to the university. This year, 131 students visited on the first day, and 146 the next day.

"We always talk to students about going to college, and many don't realize what college is," said William Byrd Middle School Principal Tammy Newcomb '90. "We think it's important to start the process now."

Newcomb said the school follows the College in Six program, which encourages middle-school teachers and administrators around Virginia to take sixth graders to visit colleges so they can engage in meaningful activities and learn more about the higher education experience.

"It is important for them to come here because, right now at this age, college is very abstract for them," said William Byrd Middle School Assistant Principal Amy Duff ‘93. "Everybody talks about going to college, but they don't truly understand what is college."

RU's School of Teacher Education and Leadership (STEL) played host for the visits.

While at Radford University, the students were greeted by Irvin Clark, the university's associate vice president and dean of students, before trekking about campus for tours of academic buildings, residence halls, the student center and the new Student Recreation and Wellness Center. They also had lunch at Dalton Hall along with many RU students.

Cooley enjoyed it all, but he really liked lunch.

"My favorite thing here is the food. It's fantastic," he said emphatically after his meal of pizza "a lot of garlic knots" and some cookies.

After lunch on day one, College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) Dean Kenna Colley and CEHD Associate Dean Tamara Wallace spoke with the group.

On day two, STEL Interim Director Jennifer Jones addressed the students and gave them a few important tips about planning for their futures.

"When you go home today, tell your family what happened today. Tell them what you liked about it and that you want to start planning for college now," said Jones, a 2015 State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) Outstanding Faculty Award winner. "Don't let money get in the way of that thought. There are scholarships out there. There a lots of different things that can help you achieve this dream of college."

The campus tour concluded with STEL Professor Betty Dore and College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) student ambassadors leading the middle-schoolers to Peters Hall for fun and games with RU students majoring in programs in the university's Department of Health and Human Performance.

"The younger we can make an impression and foster a dream for young people to be able to go to college the better off they will be," Dore said. "They need to be able to see themselves here on campus as college students."

Carinae Turner had no problem envisioning herself as a Radford University student in the future. "I think it's a great school," she said. "It seems like a good place to go to college. I really like it here."

Nov 4, 2015