Washington State University Vancouver student Adriana Benitez stood in front of teacher Katherine Howard’s fifth-grade class at King Elementary. “How many of you are excited to go to college?” she asked.
Around the room, hands shot into the air.
Enthusiasm for higher education is strong at King due in part to the College Access Corps Program, a grant-funded community outreach effort that pairs college students with kindergarten through 12th-grade youths.
About 10 College Access coaches, all WSUV students, volunteered weekly last school year to help prepare the fifth-graders for college and reinforce their academic engagement. King was the first local elementary school to benefit.
“Although they’re young, we’re giving them an idea of what it’s all about,” said Benitez.
This school year, the mentors will return to King, and College Access is exploring a partnership with Fort Vancouver High School.
Fifth-grader Xzavor Kelley said that meeting with current college students deepened his knowledge of the process to get to where they are. “When they came, I got more info about how they help you get scholarships and help you pay for your college,” he said.
In addition, the WSUV students coached their mentees on test anxiety, time management and setting goals, and tutored them in reading and writing.
Added Shaun Kent, majoring in public affairs at WSUV, “We taught them it is about having fun, but it’s also about furthering your education, furthering your success in life.”
Their mentoring complements the school’s main college-focused programs: No Excuses University and Advancement Via Individual Determination, both used by schools around the district.
The focus is paying off. “I was surprised how much they already knew about college,” said Kent.
And a visit to the WSUV campus last spring for many King students helped make higher education even more real. “It’s a really cool experience,” said Ethan Bardue. “I’m only in fifth grade, but I get to see how it is to be in college. It really impacts my feelings about college.”
That’s something that shouldn’t be limited, thinks Benitez, who didn’t receive similar mentoring from college students when she was in elementary school. “Every fifth-grader should have this opportunity,” she said.
Pictured above: WSUV student Shaun Kent, left, discusses college with Eduardo Santos-Hernandez, then a fifth-grader at King Elementary.