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In Kent, kindergarten is time to consider college

Charla Bear
Kent educators are taking kindergarten classes to college campuses to get kids geared toward higher education.

School starts up again in a couple of weeks and a lot of kids have just begun to think about the coming year.  Kindergarteners in Kent, though, are already mulling over higher education.

The school district is trying a unique approach to helping students get to college.

Preparing kids for campus

Teachers have talked to the kids a lot about college lately to make sure they're familiar with the concept. Students also received crisp, white t-shirts that read, "yes I am college bound, 2023."

It’s part of an effort called "Kinders to College" that aims to put students on the road to higher education, literally. 

Kent educators have piled 1,202 kindergarteners on buses headed for community college and university campuses, starting with those least likely to get there. Most of them are either children of color, low-income, or come from immigrant families.  

Before Saniyah Wheeler, 6, set foot on campus, she imagined it to be a place of serious study:

"When we see the classrooms the people are going to be doing their math and listening to their teachers in their classrooms," she said. "Because college people listen to their teachers. They’re not babies who don’t listen."

Seeing college for themselves

Kindergarteners  at Park Orchard Elementary visited Seattle Pacific University last May.   

When they arrived, Superintendent Lee Vargas asked them to make some commitments. In unison, they pledged to:

  • do well in school
  • listen to their teachers
  • help their parents at home
  • graduate from high school
  • to go on to college
  • to finish college

After a brief orientation, their packed schedule included 101 introductions to several subjects, including science and math, and a tour of the brick structures that towered above them.
Even spiels on homework and homesickness didn't phase them. Cheyenne York, 6, was thrilled with her experience on campus:

"It’s awesome," she said. "It’s fun and then they have free library books."

What's the right age for campus visits?

Superintendent Vargas couldn’t be happier with York's reaction. He brought the field trip idea with him from his former district in Santa Ana, Calif. 

The effort is paid for mostly through a grant from Nickelodeon and it's only enough to fund trips for one grade at Title I schools. Vargas says choosing kindergarten makes sense instead of, say, third grade:     

"That’s the foundation, with those high expectations," he said. "If it were up to me, if we had preschool, we’d be bringing people in to talk about life opportunities and making school work relevant to life."

With kids spending so much of their lives outside of school, he says it’s key to bring parents along, too. Anna Maria Sanabria was one of the few moms who took him up on invite. 

"For me, it’s very important that my daughter knows the place for the future when she goes to study," she said.

A little early for some ...

Not all kindergarteners are ready to think about heading off the college.

Angelina Ramirez, 6, says she wants to be a teacher, but the 30-mile trek to SPU might be a bit too far away:

"I want to stay at home with my mommy," she said.

Even kids who aren’t sold on college yet show why it’s important to start this process early, say administrators. It gives kids plenty of time to reflect on the experience before it’s actually time to apply.


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