LSU is planning to open its doors on successive Fridays this fall so sixth-graders from public middle schools in Baton Rouge can get a taste of what college is like in hopes that they will later pursue higher education.
New East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Warren Drake and LSU Chancellor and President F. King Alexander agreed in principle to the visits during a recent face-to-face meeting, but the details are still being worked out.
Drake said Wednesday that it was Alexander’s idea and is based on an event he did as president of Cal State University at Long Beach, California.
“(Alexander) is very motivated to do it, and so am I,” Drake said. “We just need to get some people to sit down at the table to map it all out.”
Drake took over the state’s second-largest school district on June 1 and has been meeting with local community leaders.
In 2008, Alexander formed a far-reaching partnership with the Long Beach Unified School District called The Long Beach College Promise.
That partnership, among other things, provides for a tuition-free semester at the Cal State campus.
Another aspect of the partnership made it possible for sixth-graders in Long Beach public schools to visit the university annually.
LSU also is focusing on sixth grade as a key transition year, a year when children are through with elementary school and embarking on the secondary grades.
“It’s just a good time to bring them in to show what the possibilities are,” Drake said.
Speaking for LSU, Ashley Arceneaux, the university’s director of policy communications, echoed Drake.
“A lot of research shows that around that age, students are making decisions about how they will pursue their education in the future,” she said.
Drake said he’s not sure how many Friday visits it will take before 3,000-plus sixth-graders will be able to see the state’s flagship campus but said they could last for more than a month.
Arceneaux said the only thing that’s clear is the visits will take place on Fridays when the LSU football team is playing an away game.
Other aspects may change. For instance, if having every sixth-grader visit this fall proves too problematic, it’s possible LSU will treat this year as a pilot and ask the school system to limit visits to a smaller number of students but expand districtwide in the future, she said.
Arceneaux said the visits are part of a larger LSU effort to get children to think about their future, called Journey to College.
“There are pathways that exist that we want to make sure they know about,” she said.
Class trips to local colleges are common, but school visits with this many children at such a young age are much rarer.
University of Wisconsin at Green Bay annually hosts 1,500 visiting fifth-graders from nearby public schools as part of a privately funded initiative called Phuture Phoenix, which began 13 years ago.
Director Mary Sue Lavin said the visits are eye-opening. For instance, the university’s library is eight stories high.
“The kids are just so in awe of this place,” she said. “It’s just bigger than they can ever imagine.”
One popular place to stop is to see the school’s athletes.
“They get to shoot hoops with the basketball team or kick the ball around with the soccer team,” she said, noting that it’s common for visiting children to get their T-shirts signed by favorite players.
One newer element of Phuture Phoenix is that each group of five children has a college student assigned to them who serves as a “role model” and tour guide, and also visits them at their schools before and after the university visit.
“Just getting those kids on campus and having a college student who walks around with them, and developing those relationships, that’s important,” Lavin said. “Those kids, they remember.”