Getting a taste of academia



PITTSFIELD - This month, Berkshire County sixth graders having been caravanning to local college campuses bus load by yellow bus load.


The Berkshire Compact for Higher Education designated April 3, 8 and 15 as "Berkshire County Goes to College" days.


The Compact, in essence, is a community initiative to create pathways for residents to go to college and match them with employment opportunities in Berkshire County.


Focused on sixth graders attending local public schools, the college day program brings students to local campuses in hopes of inspiring them to further their education.


Last year's inaugural events included approximately 1,200 sixth graders. This year's program has an estimated 1,400 students visiting either Bard College at Simon's Rock, Berkshire Community College, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts or Williams College.


"It makes you think about what it's really going to be like," said Cody Simpson, a sixth grader from Herberg Middle

School who visited BCC on Wednesday.


Though the program officially kicked off last Friday at MCLA, the majority of students, representing 10 schools, made visits to either BCC, MCLA or Williams on Wednesday.


"I think it demystifies the whole thing, especially for students whose parents haven't been college educated or for students who will be first-generation. It shows them that it's not really out of their reach," said Kathleen Gillis, a sixth-grade team leader at Monument Valley Middle School.


The school is one of five schools scheduled to visit Simon's Rock next Wednesday.


For colleges, the Berkshire County Goes to College program is a chance to showcase what opportunities they can afford students in the Berkshires. Each campus is allowed to plan its own activities.


At MCLA, students can produce a mock television show in the campus TV studio. Sixth graders visiting BCC are given a demonstration of the use of patient simulation mannequins in the allied health program. Campus tours are held at Williams. Simon's Rock offers classroom visits, all among other activities.


"I hope they get the exposure and see that college is not that intimidating," said Tina Schettini coordinator of the BCC events.


For students, it's a chance to get a feel of the campus, often for the first time, by observing and participating in activities and asking questions.


In a new effort by the Compact to collect data, all visiting students will fill out a surveys about the program, which will be compiled and later analyzed.


On Wednesday, The Eagle observed approximately 340 students visiting BCC. Of eight sixth graders interviewed, all said they had previously thought about college.


Some general perceptions they hold are that college involves a lot of books, work and costs money.


Students also felt that the Berkshire County Goes to College events should be held for students when they are a little older. "When it makes more sense and they might be thinking of it a little more," said Herberg sixth grader Jack Trainor.


Overall, they said that they enjoyed the activities and the visit.


Said Bayley Shanley, a sixth grader at Williamstown Elementary School, "It lets us see all the things we can do at a school."


For more information, on this and other programs of the Berkshire Compact for Higher Education, visit compact.