Kids in College

Kids in College participants

With Randolph’s Michels Plaza fountain in the background, a group of 25 local middle school students blew into cylinder-shaped wind tubes before carefully stacking them to create a house-shaped structure. Several Randolph College students stood nearby, offering advice and guidance as they watched the students get a hands-on lesson in Bernoulli’s Principle.

The exercise was part of Randolph’s Kids in College program, which was created eight years ago in an effort to help raise Standards of Learning test scores at Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle School.

Randolph education professor Consuella Woods, a former principal at Dunbar, helped the Lynchburg City School’s administrators write a 21st Century Community Learning Center grant for the program. Each year, the group of Dunbar students make regular trips to Randolph, where they work with Randolph students on math skills and then eat dinner with them in the dining hall.

The first year, Randolph students were volunteers, but as the program grew, Randolph students were able to receive academic credit for their work.

The Randolph mentors prepare lesson plans and work with the middle school students two days per week during the fall and spring semesters. The program has resulted in higher math test scores for the Dunbar students, who are recommended by teachers. In fact, the success of the program has resulted in a regular waiting list. One of the hallmarks of the program is that students have the opportunity to apply what they learn in practical ways.

“We work on things like managing budgets,” Woods said.

“For one scenario, they might pull a card where they’re a high school dropout and have one job. From there they have to figure out what their rent is going to be, whether they have to buy a car, and so on. They are asked to research the costs of homes, cars, and even raising children.”

The program also exposes the middle schoolers to college life and the expanded career opportunities a college education provides. The group has learned about several of Randolph’s programs, such as its Center for Student Research, and received help in learning how to apply for jobs.

The parents of several children in this semester’s program say it has opened their children’s eyes to the possibilities available to them and made what they are learning in middle school more relevant.

“What they learned here this semester seemed to relate directly to what they were learning in school,” said Ryan Finnegan, whose daughter, Riley, was part of the program.

“She seems more focused on doing her homework and wanting to learn, and she seems more interested in other people and social interactions, too.”

Alma Thomas has been pleased to see her daughter, Tyla, express an interest in college. “The best thing, according to the kids, is the food,” she said with a laugh. “But I’m glad she got the experience, and it’s good to know that they want to go to college.”

Kids in College also helps Randolph students decide if teaching is the right career fit for them. Thanks to her experiences with the program, education major Teagan Stanley ’19 knew early on that she wanted to become a teacher. She plans to earn a Master of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T.) degree from Randolph after earning her undergraduate degree.

“Helping kids and making education fun is what I want to do,” Stanley said. “Randolph is one of the few places I’ve ever been where education is looked at as such a positive thing.”

Since the program is open to all majors, the lessons each semester vary based on the expertise of the Randolph students in the class. Sometimes others from the College community are invited to teach as well. This spring, Sara Woodward ’16, an environmental science major, led a special lesson about dendroclimatology. For the exercise, students examined “tree cookies”—samples of tree stumps found around the campus—and compared tree rings to determine rainfall totals. Woodward said the data they recorded would be used by Randolph scientists in future biology experiments.

Woodward came to Randolph as an English major, but discovered a stronger interest in science when she took her first environmental studies course. The experiences she has had with the Kids in College program, combined with her volunteer work on Randolph’s Science Festival, have convinced her to pursue a career teaching science.

“A couple of the students told me they wished I was their science teacher,” she said with a smile. “I loved working one-on-one with them. I was already looking at going on to graduate school, but this affirmed for me what I really want to do.”

At the end of each semester, the Kids in College students and their Randolph mentors team up to work on Legacy Projects that symbolize the experience. Last fall, students created two posters filled with drawings of what they learned that semester—one for the College and the other for the Dunbar students to take with them back to their school. For the spring semester, students created a shadow box with each student’s thumbprint on the logo for Randolph’s 125th anniversary.

Woods believes the lasting imprint that Randolph students leave on the middle school students’ lives—and vice versa—is most important. “They help one another not just with math, but they help one another become leaders,” Woods said.