Sixth graders become Highlanders in Training

Discussions about college begin early for school children.

For students at William Byrd Middle School in Roanoke, it starts in sixth grade. And it’s not all talk. Teachers and administrators load students onto busses and send them off to campus for a day to get a feel for what college life is all about.

“Our students get to see the campus and get an idea of what university life looks like,” said William Byrd Principal Todd Kageals ’93, MS ’03. “One of the things which surprised me during our visit was that our students seemed to have a hard time understanding that college students live at the university.” 

Kageals is referencing a November trip to Radford University, when the School of Teacher Education and Leadership (STEL) hosted, over two days, more than 273 sixth-grade students from the middle school.

The visits were part of the "College in Six" program that 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.

Radford University has been hosting William Byrd Middle students for the past three years. The number of students who visited this year more than doubled the group that made the initial visit in 2014, said STEL Professor Betty Dore, who organizes the visits.

While on campus, the students met with Radford University’s Associate Vice President and Dean of Students Irvin Clark, who greeted them and provided them with “HIT” buttons – “Highlander in Training.”

The students toured campus, stopping off at such places as the new Recreation and Wellness Center and the climbing wall in Peters Hall before having lunch in Dalton Dining Hall.

“They always get excited about the food on campus,” Dore said. “They can’t believe they can have as much food as they want.”

The young students also heard from Kenna Colley, dean of the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD), Tamara Wallace, the college’s associate dean, and STEL Director Amanda Bozack.

The students later returned to Peters Hall for fun and games with Health and Human Performance Associate Professor Anna Devito and a group of college students.

“It was active, active, active,” said Dore, who helped lead the way around campus with the aid of STEL graduate assistants and CEHD ambassadors.

“By attending College in Six, we hope that our students will get an idea of what it means to attend college,” Kageals said. “The idea is to put an experience of visiting the campus with the college name so they have a better perception of what college represents.”

For some students, Kageals said, the experience may change their future plans.

“For us, the goal of the program is to expose children to options which they may not otherwise consider,” the principal said. “It’s difficult to set a goal, in this case attending college, if you have no idea what attending college is like. We hope to have given them an experience which will impact their academic planning as they go through the public school system.”

On the Radford University side of the equation, Dore said she hopes the William Byrd Middle students will think of the university “a few years from now when they are making the difficult decision about which college is right for them.” 

Dec 1, 2016
Chad Osborne