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Middle school students get taste of college life at ECC

ECC student KevStoffel leads group middle schoolers around ElgCommunity College Friday during tour Campus. Kimball Middle School students spent morning

ECC student Kevin Stoffel leads a group of middle schoolers around Elgin Community College Friday during a tour of the Campus. Kimball Middle School students spent the morning at college as part of the college's Alliance for College Readiness. December 7, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 11, 2013 6:11AM

ELGIN — It looks like an airport. Or a mall.

It even has its own gift shop.

That’s how about 130 seventh-graders from Kimball Middle School in Elgin described Elgin Community College and its bookstore — not actually a gift shop — during their first-ever visit to a college campus Friday.

“It was awesome,” said Giselle Barraza, 13, over lunch in the college’s Jobe Lounge.

It was Middle School Friday, a program that has existed in some form at Elgin Community College for the past six years, according to Assistant Dean of College Readiness and School Partnerships Julie Schaid.

“It’s a good point in time when kids are curious and it’s important to get them thinking about the value of high school and continuing education,” Schaid said.

That’s a program that’s grown just in the past three years, the assistant dean said, since it’s been tied to the Alliance for College Readiness, a partnership between the community college and the four school districts with in Community College District 509: Elgin School District U46, Carpentersville-based Community Unit School District 300, Burlington Central Community Unit School District 301 and St. Charles Community Unit School District 303.

It’s gone from something the college has offered when a middle school has asked about a tour to something the college promotes to middle schools, she said. There now are more interested middle schools than there are Fridays it offers the program (about 12 each year), she added.

And that’s a program that, along with other Alliance for College Readiness initiatives, has helped increase the number of students who come to Elgin Community College directly from high school and the number who come completely college-ready, meaning they need no developmental courses to catch up.

In 2006, Schaid said about 950 students came to the college directly from high school; of those, about 24 percent tested completely college-ready. This past fall, those numbers had jumped to 1,334 students direct from high school, 32 percent of which were college-ready.

That success has the community college considering reaching into elementary schools, even as young as kindergarten, to get students thinking about continuing education, she said.

“Starting early is our best chance for our students to have some goals and know what it takes to get there,” said Gina Piccirilli, an AVID teacher at Kimball.

Increasing odds

During a “Hunger Games”-themed presentation Friday morning created by students in public speaking and Serve, a community service course, college freshman Jenny Kelly explained to Kimball students her job was a lot like Cinna’s in the popular series.

“We’re here trying to help guide you to the best possible future so you guys can be where we are today, following your dreams,” Kelly said.

Those college students explained the differences between middle school, high school and two- or four-year colleges and universities Friday morning in the Spartan Auditorium at Elgin Community College.

Freshman Kevin Stoffel suggested several ways to make high school, just two years away, count: get involved with activities, build relationships with teachers, go to classes, take a math class every year and read, read, read.

Since 2006, the number of students coming from high school to the community college ready for college-level math has jumped 10 percentage points, from 29 to 39 percent, according to Schaid. And the Alliance for College Readiness recently rolled out to its districts a fourth-year math course for high school students who might not otherwise take math as seniors.

The college students also answered questions from the seventh-graders, like, “What are your most popular classes?” and, “Do you play sports here?” And they encouraged them college is for everybody.

“The odds are ever in your favor,” Kelly said.

Touring campus

On a tour of the campus afterward, Kelly pointed out to students the community college’s video game club and showed them her math classroom. She took them through the automotive garage, onto the stage in the Arts Center and into the nursing labs, lined with lifelike patients in beds.

The lab was “cool,” if you ask 12-year-old Monserrat Rivera, “scary,” to Joanna Alonso, also 12.

“I thought that was a real person!” said Giselle, who wants to go on to college to become a nurse.

But in addition to having fun and being awesome, students said over lunch they learned a lot from the program, like that you can use your cell phone in class, Monserrat said. Many snapped pictures on their phones — on stage, in front of Christmas decoration, near the Dinos on Parade created by former college students — as they toured the campus.

And they learned those freedoms also come with responsibilities, they said.

“If you don’t go to class for one day, it’s like missing a whole week,” Joanna said.

All agreed they plan to go on to college to be nurses and teachers and actresses, they said. And they know they’ll have to pay attention in class and take a lot of notes to get there, something they’ve learned in their AVID classes.

Most of the students who attended Middle School Friday on the last Friday of the semester at Elgin Community College were part of AVID, or Advancement Via Individual Determination.

That program, not just at Kimball, but at many U46 schools, takes middle-performing students and places them in advanced classes. It also prepares students for colleges with two campus visits in seventh grade and two campus visit in eighth, Piccirilli said.

And many of those students would be the first in their families to go on to college, according to the teacher.

“I think it just gives them an opportunity to see college life here, what it’s all about. For our demographic, I think that’s an opportunity they wouldn’t otherwise get,” she said.

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