Students get taste of college life at MCLA



NORTH ADAMS -- Third-grader Alex Rondeau, 9, found himself right at home Thursday morning as he examined a sea anemone under a microscope in the biology lab at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

 "I'm really enjoying this because I want to be a scientist," Alex, a student in Sarah Sookey's class at C.T. Plunkett Elementary School in Adams, said. "I want to work with humans and animals, so this seems like the place I want to be. I'm definitely going to college."

 The visit to MCLA by about 80 students from four C.T. Plunkett classrooms was funded by a grant from the Berkshire Compact and is part of a larger program, Berkshire Passport. The program aims to raise the aspirations of area students by having them complete certain steps -- including college visits -- in grades three, six, nine and 12.

 "The first step is getting the kids on a college campus," Katie Dubendorf, an admissions counselor at the college, said. "We really want to attack the idea early on that 16 years of education is not a hope; it's a need."

 Currently the program is able to have every sixth-grader in the county visit a college campus, with annual trips to MCLA, Williams College, Simon's Rock College of the Bard and Berkshire Community College.

"For the last two years, we've only been able to have third-graders from North Adams come for a visit," said Denise Richardello, MCLA vice president of admissions.

 "We're attempting to expand the third-grade visits to at least every school in North County, if not the whole county. We're also hoping to expand the visits for third-graders beyond MCLA to include our other partners."

 The visits are important, she said, because, "Research shows that students who are exposed to higher education options early on are more likely to consider going on to college, and that it raises their aspirations."

 During Thursday's two-hour visit, students were taken to four workshops, where they watched chemistry experiments, fed sea anemones, worked with television cameras and took an acting lesson.

Jeremy Smith, chemistry lab technician, quizzed students about chemical reactions as he expanded a marshmallow to 300 times its size.

"How many of you have made macaroni and cheese or brownies at home?" he asked, and students shot their hands into the air.

"Well, those of you who are raising your hands are chemists -- you've mixed at least two different items and created something new, which is a chemical reaction, Smith explained, adding, "I can make a marshmallow expand to 300 times its original size because I went to college. When you get to college, you get to do a lot of great things."

Third-grade teacher Beth Bourdon said she believed the trip would have a positive impact on the students.

"I think it's fabulous exposure, especially to introduce the idea that college is a possibility that is out there in their future," she said. "I think it would be great if the college went further and did workshops the kids could participate in during the school year. I just think it's great the college is reaching out."

Nine-year-old John Krol said he's already thinking about college -- he's hoping to design helmets for the NFL in the future.

"I want to create the next best helmet," he said. "We've talked about what I have to do to design a helmet and what colleges I might want to go to."

At least one workshop convinced a student to consider the local state college in the future.

Breanne Deluca, 8, said she's determined to go to college and already has MCLA in her sights.

"It's the college closest to my home," she said. "I really like acting, and we did some great stuff in the theater today."

Third-grade teacher Ann Prudhomme said it isn't unusual for students to know what they want to be when they grow up at such an early age.

 "A lot of them know what they want to do, but they don't understand what it will take for them to get there," she said. "It's a tough age to impress upon them that everything they are doing in school will impact them later in life. Each of the workshops has very subtly done that today.

 "When we were in the chemistry lab today, the instructor showed them some great stuff and then told them about the math and science he learned to be able to do it. The looks that came over their faces were amazing when they made the connection."


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