School children get taste of life at U

by Douglas Rojas

Amanda Montgomery, a sixth-grade elementary school student, wants to be a lawyer or a wild cat trainer after she finishes school.
And on Tuesday, she had the chance to visit the University for the first time.
“I thought the University was one big building,” Montgomery said, “I didn’t think there were restaurants.”
Montgomery was among about 90 students from Hayden Heights Elementary School in East St. Paul that visited the University’s East Bank campus. The visit gave students the opportunity not only to see the school for the first time but also to find out what they need to do in order to start a college career.
Students in Hayden Heights have six years to worry about their future in college. However, Jay Samuels, professor of educational psychology at the University, said even though it is a long way away, sixth grade is the perfect time to encourage kids to start thinking about achieving certain goals.
Within the next couple years, Samuels said, the students will start deciding what math, science and language classes they will take in high school to prepare them for college.
The tour involved more than just encouraging kids to think about attending classes, however. Students from Hayden Heights come from different ethnic backgrounds, including Asian-American and African-American, and some come from low-income families, said Nancy Schemer, a sixth-grade teacher at the school. Often the students have many misconceptions about what a university is like.
“They understand high school very well, but not college,” Schemer said. To correct this lack of knowledge Schemer developed the idea of taking the students to the University.
Most students only see the University as a big building with just a few classrooms, much like their own schools. They also know that going to the University would help them to get good jobs such as being a lawyer or doctor, she said.
“They don’t know what they actually have to do, but they’ve seen those jobs,” Schemer said.
For the Office of Admissions at the University, a tour for elementary school students was unusual because the office usually targets juniors and seniors in high school, said Patricia Jones Whyte, assistant director of admissions. The office, which is responsible for freshman recruitment at the University, emphasized that the University is an attainable goal for the future, and that the University recognizes hard work.
The tour included information about basic requirements for applying to the University, classes and majors available, residence halls and places of social interaction in the University community. The main goal, however, was to clear up any misunderstandings about how life is at the University.
“We wanted to destroy the myth that it (University) would not be affordable,” Whyte said. The tour fits with University President Nils Hasselmo’s University 2000 plan to increase diversity at the University.
“We hope to see them in six years,” Whyte said.
For Samuels, the tour was an eye-opening experience that hopefully will spark the idea in the kids’ minds to attend college in the future.
“It’s one example of the University reaching out to the community to help its citizens, especially those who never thought about going to college,” Samuels said.
Samuels helped link the school and the University to organize Tuesday’s tour. For Montgomery so far, wild cat training is her first pick instead of studying law. But from her experience yesterday, she decided she’s ready to bypass high school and head straight to campus.
“It’s like a mall. I’d rather come here,” she said.