Local middle school students received a taste of college life on Tuesday.
The Duke-Durham School Days program is an annual event that allows eighth grade students to explore Duke’s campus in order to get excited about higher education. Started in 1999, the program selects students from Durham public schools who come from families with no prior college experience. The day is intended to encourage 300 local students to aim for a college education, said David Stein, senior educational partnership coordinator of the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership.
“We know that if a young student spends any time on a college campus, then they are more likely to want to apply to college,” Stein said.
Students participating in the program were able to sit in on classes and look at dorm rooms. They also went on campus tours to become familiar with a college campus.
Stein noted that the goal of the program is to make college life seem “as real as possible” to the kids, adding that many of them feel that college is out of their reach, but, with proper planning, it does not have to be.
“These students are at a critical junction,” Stein said. “In the Spring of their eighth grade year, they choose a course of study for high school. If they do not choose a path toward college now, it can be very hard to change their minds later.”
Duke undergraduates and staff ran the program and each person was responsible for a group of ten students.
The day began with an obstacle course that symbolized the various challenges that the students would face while aiming for higher education throughout high school. At the end of the course, students tossed graduation caps into hula-hoops with the names of popular universities inside to show the end goal of choosing a path to college.
“The goal of the hula-hoops was for students to understand that aiming for college begins today,” said Sabrina Lamar, a Duke-Durham School Days coordinator.
Freshman Emma Welch was one of the undergraduates who participated in the program. She noted that the students in her group were enthusiastic throughout the entire program and that their parents and chaperons were encouraging.
Eric Dupont, a student from Carrington Middle School who was in Welch’s group, added that although the program was fun, he had already known he wanted to attend college.
“My favorite school is Virginia Tech, and that is where I want to go,” Dupont said.
The day concluded with a presentation from President Richard Brodhead about financial aid. Many of the students said that they felt that college tuition was too expensive for their families. After hearing Brodhead’s presentation on financial aid, many students felt more secure that they could afford college.
Sophomore Derek Rhodes, Duke Student Government vice president for Durham and regional affairs, and Senior Ashley Copeland helped get students involved with the program for the twelfth consecutive year.
“We have great success with this program,” Stein said. “And the support from the students, staff and faculty is amazing.”