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Durham School Days returns post-pandemic, aims to encourage middle school students to pursue college education

Nearly 300 middle school students from Durham Public Schools toured Duke’s campus and experienced college life for a day last month. 

This year’s Durham School Days program on Nov. 18 was back in-person for the first time since the pandemic. The annual program aims to encourage middle school students to pursue a college education, especially those who would become first-generation college students. 

At the end of 8th grade, DPS students complete a “high school course of study,” where “they have to decide whether or not they are aiming for college. And they do this with little understanding of what the college experience is,” said David Stein, senior educational and PepsiCo program coordinator in the Office of Durham and Community Affairs. 

If they don’t choose “college-bound, it’s almost impossible to switch over later,” said Stein, who directs Durham School Days. “We thought this is a great opportunity for them to experience college and see if that’s something they want to aim for.” 

Students and Duke volunteers gathered in the Penn Pavilion to hear from Stelfanie Williams, vice president for Durham and community affairs, and President Vincent Price.

“I hope you think about what higher education can do, by opening doors to you for the rest of your lives. And I hope you’ll consider thinking about what it takes now to lay the groundwork to go to a college or university,” Price said.

Students toured campus locations including the Technology Engagement Center, Perkins Library, The Edge, Duke Chapel and a residence hall. 

Students also visited the Bryan Center Studios where they were filmed on camera answering the question, “What was the first thing you thought of when you stepped on campus?” Most students talked about sports or how big the campus is.

“I thought it was fancy and expensive,” one student from Brogden Middle School said. After exploring campus, the students ate lunch on the Bryan Center Plaza. 

“It was a great experience for them to get a glimpse of college life. My group had an excellent group of Duke students who answered numerous questions for the students,” wrote Bart Satterfield, a physical therapist at Duke Health, wrote.

To close the day-long program, students watched a dance performance by Defining Movement, a multicultural dance group on Duke’s campus, and a fencing demonstration. Students heard from Cecilia Polcano, a first-generation University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and School Days alumni, and Christina Villegas, director of postsecondary access at the Emily K Center, about their next steps in their educational journey.

“One thing that struck me was how eager the students were to participate,” Stein wrote. “It’s been four years or so since their last field trip.” 


Kerria Weaver | Kerria Weaver

Kerria Weaver is a first-year master’s student in the Graduate Liberal Studies program and a staff reporter of The Chronicle’s 118th volume.

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