First grade may seem a little early to start encouraging children to think about college, but in the Northeast Kingdom there are good reasons to underscore the importance of a post-secondary education.
The region lags far behind the state in the percentage of people with college degrees – and it’s gearing up for an influx of jobs that will require an educated workforce.
That’s why this week Lyndon State College held its first ever Kingdom Kids College Fair.
It wasn’t your typical campus visit for prospective college students. It was geared to the specific tastes and attention spans of first and second graders.
About 75 students from three area elementary schools started the morning by working out the kinks from their school bus ride over with an audience participation exercise called, "I’m alive, awake, alert, enthusiastic". Then they trouped to series of short presentations.
Television weatherman Dan Dowling teaches at Lyndon. He told students that a career in meteorology is fun – if they like math and science, and he offered them a turn in front of the school’s TV cameras.
After that it was on to a short science class, where kids pondered why a rain forest is called a rain forest – and what it takes to preserve them.
The students had fun, but there’s a serious backdrop to their visit. Census figures show just 21 percent of Northeast Kingdom adults have college degrees, compared to a statewide figure of 33 percent.
Heather Bouchey oversees the Leahy Center at Lyndon State. The center focuses on helping young people in the kingdom plan for a post-secondary education.
Bouchey says campus visits by children as young as these can plant a seed, but it will take more to nurture it.
"Do I think that having a one time exposure to a college campus without other things is going to have a huge impact on the lifetime of a particular student? Probably not," says Bouchey. "What’s important about it is that it fits in with a larger perspective that the college is building."
Bouchey says the kid’s college fair is part of an ongoing community outreach effort by the Leahy Center and the college.
As the fair wound up, Newark Street School teacher Janice Powers deemed it a success for her first and second graders.
"The children are totally involved with what they’re doing," Powers explained. "I think they’ll have a lot of stories to tell when they go home and we’ll be writing about some of the things that they learned today."
One of Powers’ students first grader Kealey Ouelette.
"I thought it was great," said his mother Baylow Ouelette, who helped chaperone the class. "It’s a nice way to introduce kids to education."
A major economic development plan is supposed to bring thousands of jobs to the Northeast Kingdom. If it materializes, it’s expected to create an unprecedented demand for workers who have a post secondary education.