Third-grade students get their first taste of college at MCLA


Photo Gallery | Third Grade Goes to College at MCLA

NORTH ADAMS — Throughout the morning, it was clear that the third-graders visiting the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts Wednesday were having a great time touring the campus, even if it meant trekking through the rain.

"I can't wait to go to college," a young girl from Brayton Elementary School was overheard saying while visiting the fourth-floor greenhouses in the college's Feigenbaum Center for Science and Innovation.

When ambassador Mike Friedman, an environmental studies major, asked his youthful group whether they thought the center was "boring or cool," the dozen or so pupils cooed an enthusiastic "coooool" back, elongating the vowels.

But the annual "Third Grade Goes to College" program wasn't just a bright spot for the more than 160 elementary school students, teachers and parents who visited on Wednesday. The ongoing program mutually benefits MCLA faculty, staff and students.

In 20-minute snippets, members of the mathematics, chemistry, environmental science, biology, physics, athletics and performing arts departments got to showcase some of the best of what they have and do.

"Today we showed them a lot," said Erika Lucia, a member of the MCLA Class of 2019, who's majoring in English and communications.

"I'm hoping that by the time they do come here, they'll have even more available to them," she said. "But today was wicked good. We become part of their community by them coming here."

Lucia and Friedman, who both have an interest in working with school-age children, said they had the added benefit of spending time and practicing how they communicate with a younger audience.

MCLA introduced the first "Third Grade Goes to College" program in 2007, serving 35 students, in partnership with the Berkshire Compact for Education. The partnership aims to, among other goals, raise aspirations of county residents to go to college or complete the equivalent of four years of post-secondary career training.

This year, the compact hired Sue Doucette as its program coordinator to ensure that programs like the third-grade visit are of high quality and meaningful for all participants.

This fall, in advance of Wednesday's visit, Doucette visited the program's 2015-16 partner schools: Brayton, Sullivan and Greylock elementary schools of North Adams; Clarksburg School and St. Stanislaus Kostka School in Adams. Accompanied on the visits by MCLA staff and students, Doucette asked students to write a sentence or two, and draw a picture to illustrate their career goals and dreams.

"We had a lot of police department and military aspirations, some teachers and scientists, and several wanted to be professional athletes," she said.

The younger students also had a chance to talk with the college students. The older students, in turn, had to learn how to explain to the kids college vocabulary, like "major," "semester" and "dormitory."

Doucette is working to coordinate follow-up visits to the elementary classrooms to reinforce what the students learned on campus.

"They think it's really cool," said Ceira O'Brien, a third-grade teacher at St. Stanislaus Kostka.

Her student, Gabriel Fusini, agreed.

"I think this is good to do because then you can learn about what college is and then maybe a lot of people will go here," he said.

Gabriel said he wants to work with steel, "like my dad," and that he thinks he might like to take chemistry, "where you can blow stuff up."

Equally, many students were excited by the little luxuries of college, like being able to bring your own snacks and drinks to class and living with friends. But O'Brien said letting the kids interact with multiple aspects of a college campus can start opening their minds to the opportunities their futures can hold.

"I hope they understand that you can go to college and find all the different things they're good at," O'Brien said. "Some of them think there's only one thing they can do, but I hope this shows them that anything they want to do, they can find at college."

Contact Jenn Smith at 413-496-6239.


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