Elementary school students brought to GVSU to experience college

GVL / Luke Holmes - Beth Hopkins plays a game with kids from Dickinson Elementary School.

Luke Holmes

GVL / Luke Holmes – Beth Hopkins plays a game with kids from Dickinson Elementary School.

Shae Slaughter

Most Grand Valley State University students fall in between the ages of 18 and 22, but GVSU’s student senate partnered with Dickinson Academy to give some elementary students the same college experience. The students visited Friday, Nov. 4 as part of an annual program looking to introduce the idea of going to college at a young age.

About 150 children ranging from the second to fifth grade, as well as special education students, were brought from the academy. As an elementary located in Southeast Grand Rapids, Michigan these students are a part of the poorest zip code in all of Kent County. The high poverty rates also leads to a high risk of not reaching college or even graduating high school.

“I look back on my childhood experience and it was never in question if I was going to graduate high school. But these students at the ages of 9 and 10 are questioning if they are going to graduate high school,” said Malayna Hasmanis, vice president for educational affairs on student senate.

The program has been around for about four years, continually growing and adjusting to fit more students. Last year Dickinson Academy only brought only three grades rather than four.

“A lot of colleges will do middle school at the youngest, some even only high school,” said Brianna Vasquez, lead community school coordinator at Dickinson Academy. GVSU differs by inviting these elementary students to learn about college from a very young age.

“I think it’s really important to have a sense of integrating elementary students into this element,” Hasmanis said.

To help the students better understand the benefits of going to college, Hasmanis worked to construct a program that was inclusive and not merely a tour. She mentioned her wish to add more substance and diversity to the program to better engage the students.

“It’s a learning experience. That’s somethings that’s really comforting knowing that the students are really (appreciative) of anything they get and any interaction,” she said.

During their visit, the academy was split into groups for each activity based on grade level to make the experience more enjoyable and easier to manage. The itinerary for the day involved a reading corner where English students from GVSU read to the visitors. They also had the Office of Sustainability Practices perform a miniature science experiment by germinating seeds with the children.

One of the new additions to this year’s program included involving the Padnos International Center. The hope for this inclusion was to be able to show the students what’s all around the world and all of the places they are able to go if they put their mind to it. Hasmanis also added that she believes it will begin to show students intercultural competence.

“The intent of the trip is to broaden students’ perspectives and have them think ‘I could potentially go here,’” Vasquez said.

Once the trip is completed, Vasquez stated the faculty at Dickinson Academy would like to use the information learned on the trip as a stepping stone for further discussion. Vasquez would like her students to be able to talk about it through the year.

“(We want to talk about) what does it take to get into college and what does it look like,” she said.

Both GVSU and Dickinson Academy hope to keep the program an annual occurrence.

“It’s just us trying to take the time to really inspire the students and not allow negative expectations to hold them back,” Hasmanis said.