North Adams third graders visit Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts


NORTH ADAMS -- For many of the third-graders from the city's elementary schools, Tuesday was the first day they had set foot on a college campus.

But that's the idea behind the Third Grade College Visits program: Plant the seeds in young minds that college can be their destination.

Nearly 100 third-graders from Brayton, Greylock and Sullivan elementary schools visited Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts on Tuesday.

"Ask a lot of questions and have lots of fun," Joshua Mendel told a group of the students.

Mendel, the associate director of admissions at MCLA, said the goal of the visits isn't to push kids into declaring a major at age 9 or 10. It's to provide them an opportunity to explore higher education firsthand.

Judging by their comments, it seemed the young pupils enjoyed themselves.

"I felt cool being able to press a button," one student was overheard saying.

"College is really big," said another.

Another student's question, directed to a chemist, was "Are you going to blow stuff up?"

The third-graders visited four departments at MCLA and were led by student admission ambassadors.

Peter Gentile, the technical director and television production coordinator for the MCLA TV studio, and his students -- senior Sam Boyden and junior Adam Larson -- let youngsters sit at the news desk, read from a teleprompter and call the shots in the production studio.

Matthew Boillat, MCLA's head athletic trainer,and Amanda Beckwith, an assistant trainer and head volleyball coach, asked students to identify sports injuries off an X-ray and by using model bone structures.

Josh Lapierre and Brittney Gerber, both juniors and theater majors, led students through theater games and a tour of the stage.

Parents Paul and Julie LeSage watched dotingly as their son, Rylan, a third-grader at Greylock Elementary, moved from the back of his school group to the front so he could watch MCLA chemistry lab technician Jeremy Smith conduct some scientific experiments.

"Now we know chemistry's a hook for him," said Julie LeSage.

"I think it's a great way to expose kids to college," Paul LeSage said. "Some of them have no idea what it's like and think school's just about books and studying, but it's so much more."

The Third Grade College Visits program is a project of the Berkshire Compact for Education. The Compact for Education aims to engage all county residents, youths and adults alike, in thinking about furthering their education and career training.

Next Wednesday, third-graders from Crosby Elementary School in Pittsfield will pay a similar visit to Berkshire Community College's main campus in Pittsfield.