by Tyler Jones, City Year New Hampshire AmeriCorps VISTA
On December 7th, 2017, 90 fifth grade students from Beech Street Elementary School had the opportunity to visit Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) in order to learn more about the college experience. They were accompanied by the City Year team serving at Beech Street Elementary School, as well as Bryan Spooner, a member of the Bakersville Elementary School City Year team who is also an alumnus of SNHU.
At approximately 9:00 that morning, the students were greeted by SNHU staff before participating in a game of “myth vs. fact.” The students were asked questions about college, such as whether or not you can decorate your dorm room however you like or whether or not you can play a sport, and were instructed to hold up signs about whether the statement was a myth or a fact. For Bryan, the last statement presented to the students was the most powerful.
“The statement was ‘College is not for me,’” he said, “and it was a myth. They wanted to show these kids that they could go to college.” Positive reinforcement about their ability to succeed is crucial for students who may struggle academically or may not feel motivated to, or have the means, resources, or support to, continue their education beyond high school. In a city where the average high school dropout rate is 11.5%—among the highest in all of New Hampshire—telling students that college is attainable for them can be a powerful motivator.
Students also were given a tour all around the SNHU campus and explored the various resources available to SNHU students. Many of these fifth graders had never been to a college campus before, and the experience was eye-opening. “For our students, their sense of the world is just a few neighborhoods,” Bryan said. “Experiences like this open their world. So many students told me ‘I didn’t even know this [SNHU] was a thing.’”
Bryan also knows, however, that the road to college is not one that just magically appears; it requires hard work from his students. As an AmeriCorps member serving with City Year New Hampshire, Bryan’s day-to-day responsibility is to help his students succeed academically. “Working with fifth graders, my job is to get them ready for middle school next year,” he says. “You can’t be ready for college if you’re not ready for middle school, and high school beyond that. Those dreams of college are important, but we can’t forget to focus on the ‘now’ as well.”
The final activity of the day allowed these young students to create posters about what they had learned. They were also given the chance to draw what they wanted to be when they attended college. One student wrote “I love college because you can be a teacher.” Another said “After this trip I knew I wanted to go to college and follow my dream.”
A field trip to SNHU is only the beginning of these young students' plans for their futures. Information about college, as well as the opportunity to visit one, is the first step on their journey to a successful adulthood. Bryan knows that his work with City Year is to help students begin this journey and seek to continue their way. “When I told my students [at Bakersville] about this trip, they were all interested in coming,” he says. “I hope that someday we can have every school City Year New Hampshire serves come here. That question of ‘Is college for me?’ is so important that I feel like every student should be able to answer ‘yes.’”
To learn more about SNHU, visit their website. If you or someone you know is interested in joining City Year, click here for information about the application process. The next application deadline is January 26th.