Students sit at tables inside the Mary Nell and Summers A. Norman Library at Jacksonville College, sipping from juice boxes and eating cookies as they animatedly chat about their morning.
However, it's hard to tell who is having more fun – the little ones from East Side Elementary, or the college students serving as their mentors during an April 21 campus visit by students from East Side and Fred Douglas schools.
The kids – pre-school and Headstart students – “just love it,” said Rachel Glidewell, a preschool/Headstart teacher at East Side.
“They love going somewhere novel, they love learning all that is offered in our community,” she said. “As teachers, we're always looking for field trip opportunities that are obviously very educational, hands on and fun for the kids, yet free. And close by.”
It's the second year she's accompanied preschoolers on the campus visit.
“Last year, when we were trying to come up with ideas for field trips, I thought it would be fun and educational for our pre-K children to get a little tour” of her alma mater, Glidewell said.
Kaley Dean, who serves as dean of students at Jacksonville College, said officials quickly green-lighted the school's proposal to tour the campus.
It just seemed to go hand-in-hand with the college mission and JISD's “No Excuses University” program, she said.
“With that college readiness program, it think that's their incentive – just as soon as the kids get into elementary school, they begin hearing about college all through (their school years),” Dean said. “They want to introduce them to college early on.”
This year's group of visitors was more than double the 60 children who visited Jacksonville College in 2014, while about a dozen college students escorted them around campus.
JC students involved were local residents Maria Delgado, Lucia Garcia and Jonathan Gonzalez, Brittney Trowbridge of Rusk, Maysara Mainor and Alexis Tallant of Fort Worth, Rolando Salazar of Diboll and Lashae Smith of Angleton.
The children even got to meet students from foreign countries: This year's college Homecoming Queen Libia Carmona, who hails from the Dominican Republic, interacted with little ones, as did
Mary Calderon of the Philippines and Lenka Styblova of the Czech Republic.
“I think our international students got an idea of the broader mission of our college,” Dean said. “The main focus was that we're always helping our community – with the student volunteers, it helps (give kids) that exposure of the campus, (plus they) excitement over college, and that gets the younger kids excited as well.”
The day's itinerary included music, interactive games, a coloring activity, snacks and a picnic – an outing that will remain in the children's minds a long time, Glidewell said.
“They had a little color page they did of the Jacksonville Jaguars, so they'll take that home. And they'll remember they were given a pencil and a book mark; they'll remember they had cookies and juice, that they got to see the library with the computers inside. They'll remember all those things,” she said.
As an educator, Glidewell couldn't be more tickled to see how well the proposed field trip worked out, or to be able to showcase her alma mater.
“Not all small towns like this offer a two-year college, program,” she pointed out, then added, “it gives me all the more motivation to know what we're doing, talking about college at a young age, is very important,” she said. “We're teaching kids terminology – 'college,' 'university,' 'degree,' 'education,' 'career' – but they can't really can't understand them unless they see them. So when we put them in this environment, and later we're speaking about it, they know why we're wearing those college shirts on Monday.”
Best of all, it provides a fun atmosphere that the kids – large and small – seem to enjoy.
“I think it's been fun for the kids going to school here,” Glidewell said. “It's a really quick mentoring opportunity for the college kids, and it shows our students that 'I can do this when I get big.' They see the experience and they learn from it.”