By Allison Nanni
“What major should I choose? Which courses are required? How will I find my way around campus?” These are all questions one might expect from college-bound seniors. However, in this case, it is three Edison Intermediate Center eighth graders who cautiously enter the school’s conference room to discuss their experiences as participants in the College for a Day program.
The three interviewees were selected by their teachers at Edison, one of the South Bend School Corporation’s most innovative experiential learning pioneers at the middle school level.
Eighth-grader Diamond Meridy explains why she believes she was chosen. “I used to get in trouble more, but now if I don’t agree with something my friends are doing, I speak up and think independently.”
Kvionte Palmer, politely states that he prefers to be addressed as “Kv.” Kv said it was an honor to represent his classmates; “I am known for putting myself out there. I am outspoken and my parents encourage me to put myself in new situations and to get to know new people.”
Since his daylong immersion experience at Ivy Tech last year and on Notre Dame’s campus in October, Kv has returned to Notre Dame as a student ambassador. Kv knows that college is for him. Because of his interest in science and engineering, Purdue University is Kv’s top choice.
Karen Morris, assistant professional specialist for Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education and a founding member of the planning team, carefully crafts the day’s events so that the children leave campus with a realistic college experience. Morris also aligns the program’s activities with the State of Indiana academic standards, recruits other faculty volunteers, handles logistics, and spearheads the program’s evaluation and data collection.The College for a Day program, created in 2005, provides two day-long, hands-on experiences for all seventh and eighth graders at Edison. Representatives from the University of Notre Dame, Ivy Tech Community College, Bethel College, Indiana University- South Bend, the City of South Bend and the South Bend Community School Corporation comprise the program’s planning team.
Although Morris explains that the measurement of the program’s impact was largely anecdotal in 2005, the students now take online pre and post-tests to gauge their perceptions before and after participating in the program. Morris says, “Each year, the planning team asks ‘are we helping kids change their perceptions about their own future opportunities?’” Now Morris has the data to prove it.
Each year in the fall the seventh graders visit Ivy Tech for a mock college experience. The full schedule compresses an entire academic year in one day-long visit. Not only do the Edison students complete an application for admission and take placement tests, but they also receive three cents in “financial aid” to purchase books. They attend classes, go on “spring break” during a beach-themed lunch and attend a commencement ceremony complete with keynote address. As the students’ names are called, Ivy Tech’s registrar and vice chancellor for student affairs, dressed in formal academic regalia, present the seventh graders their certificates as they walk across the college’s stage.
Edison eighth-grade students visit Notre Dame’s campus for a day in the fall. The children spend the morning at the Jordan Hall of Science, are assigned team projects, attend STEM class designed specifically for them, dine with college students and have an opportunity to ask specific questions about student life. The 8th graders spend the afternoon in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center learning about the types of coursework available in the arts and participating in an improvisational performance on the main stage.
For Edison eighth grader Austen DeLeon, the most memorable parts of the day on campus were dancing on the performing arts center’s main stage and the egg drop experiment in the Jordan Hall of Science. Small teams of students competed to design a craft that would most effectively land an egg from Jordan Hall’s second floor.
Members of the planning team explain the importance of implementing activities that are both accessible to middle school students and life-changing. Exposure to a college campus does not change perceptions, Janice Austin, director of admissions at Ivy Tech says, “As a society, we have expectations for our youth. However, if we don’t present college in a way that makes it not only imaginable but later attainable, we are failing our children.”
Jackie Rucker, Associate Director of Community Relations at the University of Notre Dame, remembers thank-you letters written by the students during the program’s early years. The consistent theme of those letters was, “I didn’t know what college students did, but now that I’ve actually done it, I can see myself going to college.”
“That is why we continue to do this program,” Rucker says.
Edison principal Karla Lee says that after six years of implementing College for a Day, the planning team knew they had a strong model that could be replicated with other middle school and higher-education partners. “We knew we didn’t want to keep this [program] to ourselves. But first we wanted to be sure that we could quantify the impact the day-long programs have on our students’ lives.”
College for a Day will now be implemented with Jefferson Intermediate Center at both Indiana University at South Bend and Bethel College. “We are thrilled to participate for the first time this spring,” says Jefferson Intermediate Center principal, Byron Saunders. “It is a win-win. The immersion demystifies the college experience for our students and teaches them to plan beyond high school. In turn, local partners in higher education become embedded in our school system and are able to see our kids for who they are - prospective enrollees.”
Tara Lavalee, associate professor of political science at Indiana University – South Bend, agrees. “We are so blessed with so many institutions of higher education in this community. We want these middle school students to be able to concretely visualize themselves as college freshmen. We want them to see that college is attainable. Well-prepared students will go back out and reclaim their own community. That is how South Bend can really thrive.”