Seeding big dreams

Thursday, April 12, 2007
Kindergarten students from Jefferson Elementary School walked down the steps of Academic Hall at Southeast Missouri State University on Wednesday. The children toured the campus and got a preview of college life. (Fred Lynch)

Jefferson Elementary School kindergartners didn't have time for a nap Wednesday. They were too busy going to college.

The school's 65 kindergartners spent most of their school day touring the Southeast Missouri State University campus and participating in various career activities.

This was the second year for the kindergarten field trip. Kindergarten teacher Leasa Maxfield came up with the idea as a way to encourage children to start thinking about higher education.

"This is kind of a fun way to get college introduced to them," Maxfield said.

Jefferson School counselor Becky Wright said many of the kindergartners at her school come from families in which the parents and siblings didn't go to college. Teachers at the school are working to make "college" a regular part of the vocabulary from the time the students enter kindergarten, she said.

Donta Sterling patted Rowdy the Redhawk as Indya Brown waited in the autograph line with kindergarten students from Jefferson Elementary School at Towers Complex on Wednesday. (Fred Lynch)

For many of the kindergartners, it was their first visit to Southeast. "A lot of our kids didn't realize how close it is," said kindergarten teacher Natasha Iorio.

The Southeast chapter of Kappa Delta Pi, an education honor society, helped host the "Dream Big!" campus visit.

Dr. Julie Ray, Kappa Delta Pi chapter counselor and assistant professor of education at Southeast, said, "This field trip is designed to give children a vision of the future, including earning a college degree."

That vision included a visit to a Towers West dorm room where the bunk beds drew quick attention from the kindergartners.

"That was awesome," said Austin Widner, who marveled that two students could share a room.

They crowded into a dorm room and hugged Southeast Missouri State University mascot Rowdy the Redhawk. Rowdy was a hit with the students. "I gave him two hugs," said a smiling McKenzy Meunzo-Ross. "He had big shoes."

At the Towers complex, Rowdy handed out red foam "noodles" that usually are handed out only at university sporting events. He also signed each one.

The kindergartners found plenty of things to do with the noodles, from creating impromptu headgear to spelling out letters of the alphabet.

Rowdy wasn't the only thing that drew McKenzy's attention. She also loved visiting Kent Library. "I like the library because it had lots of books and elevators," she said.

"Are you ready for college?" a school official asked the children gathered in the main hallway at Academic Hall. "Yeah," they replied.

The official, Dr. Dennis Holt, vice president of administration and enrollment management, offered some brief advice to the students. "You have to like school to want to go to college," he told them.

"I like learning," said Adriana Crigger.

Lorandis Phillips added, "I like learning everything."

Replied Holt, "Really, all of life is about learning."

Within a few minutes, the group marched on down the hall to view the auditorium.

The kindergartners originally were scheduled to visit the university museum, but that stop was canceled after teachers learned that the museum had a "nudity in art" exhibit. Maxfield said the exhibit wouldn't have been appropriate for kindergarten students.

The day concluded with career activity stations set up in the University Center Ballroom. Students planted seeds at the agriculture station, decorated and ate cookies at a culinary arts station, and viewed astronaut gear at another station. Children also drew on large pieces of construction paper displayed on a wall.

While college can prepare students for careers, Maxfield said some kindergartners have unusual career goals. One child, she said, wants to be a Power Ranger.

Still, organizers of the field trip said they believe it was a good learning experience for all the students no matter their career goals.

"We are building a foundation," Ray said.

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