The students who gathered in front of the New College admissions office April 20 were not your typical prospective students.
The kindergarteners and first-graders from the Visible Men Academy, an all-boys charter school in Bradenton, lined up in neat rows. Some held hands as they marched into College Hall, with more than a few shoelaces trailing behind colorful sneakers.
During a three-hour guided tour, the boys — many from low-income families — had the chance to talk to New College students and professors, and tour the Jane Bancroft Cook Library. More importantly, they heard the message that college is a wonderful opportunity that’s not out of reach, even if you’re socially or economically disadvantaged.
“We really believe that by giving kids exposure to colleges, they’ll understand what college is — they can see it, they can feel what it’s all about,” said Kerry Vallejos, the Academy’s dean of students.
The Academy serves low-income communities, meeting the specific needs of at-risk elementary- and middle school-aged boys, focusing on character building as well as academics. That unique focus, paired with New College’s nontraditional approach, makes it a good match.
“Everybody that I’ve met from New College really believes in being good people,” Vallejos said. “It’s not just about being smart or pushing toward a career, but it’s about being good people in the community. The partnership really works.”
Sarah Courson is a second-year New College student and an intern at the Academy, spending 15-20 a week tutoring children in English and honing her skills in developmental psychology and Spanish.
She says the Academy and New College have a lot in common. ”We’re both a little unorthodox and nontraditional. I think it’s good that students can see there can be structure within such an unstructured and free campus.”
Her duties at the Academy include assisting in behavioral interventions. “I’m called in to try to alleviate the problem before it escalates to the point where parents have to be called,” she explained. It’s helped her form bonds with many of the students. “Some of them come from circumstances that don’t excuse their behavior, but you know why they behave they way they do. I wouldn’t wish that on any child.”
She says it’s crucial for at-risk kids to know that college is obtainable, “that it’s not a fantastical dream. For children of ethnic minorities, college or advancement in career opportunities are not always available,” she said.
Kalyn Hixon, a first-grade teacher at VMA said the timing of the trip was interesting. “One of our vocabulary words this week was ‘inspire.’ I hope they will be inspired to go to college, to think about what careers they want to pursue.
“They’re seeing more of what college has to offer; the greenhouse, the library, seeing the range of thing they can choose from. It’s opening more doors and giving them more to think about,” Hixon said.
Vallejos, the dean of students, agreed. “They’ll be able to set their goals toward going to college. A lot of our students might be first-generation college students. We want them to start planning now because we believe all our students will go to college one day.”