KOKOMO, Ind. — She may be only 5 years old, but Seri Candelaria already pictures herself as a college student.
The future doctor was among more than 1,000 kindergartners participating in the “Walk Into My Future” event Friday (September 23) at Indiana University Kokomo.
“You have to go to college to learn stuff,” Seri, a student from Howard Elementary School, said.
The campus partnered with the United Way of Howard County, Kokomo Family YMCA, and the Community Foundation of Howard County to host the event, with the goal of increasing educational attainment in north central Indiana.
“It’s important to plant the seed really early that college is an important option for everyone,” said Chancellor Susan Sciame-Giesecke. “Many of our children don’t have family who went to college, so nobody is having that conversation at home. This is a wonderful opportunity to see a college, feel what it is like, and then go home and talk to their parents about it.”
While the program’s intent is serious, the event was fun, with students visiting nearly two-dozen educational stations in the campus quad, around the Well House, and on the grass behind the Main Building. They learned to count to 10 in Spanish, created bookmarks using carrots and potatoes for stamps, played with robots, talked about making healthy food choices, took a doll’s blood pressure, and combined glue, water, and a “magic chemical,” (liquid Borax) in a sandwich bag, then squished the bag with their fingers to make silly putty.
As children stepped down from their school buses, red shirted volunteers, including IU Kokomo students, faculty, and staff, greeted them with cheers and high fives. Mascot Kingston Cougar frolicked among the stations, offering fist bumps and high fives as well. Kindergartners wore Howard County Promise T-shirts in bright colors of orange, yellow, green, and purple, among others, with each school having its own designated hue.
Future police officer Jacob Lavengood, wearing Eastern Elementary green, said his favorite station was the simulated airplane tour of Australia, led by volunteers from the hospitality and tourism management program. Students buckled up for the pretend trip, and also learned about careers in that program.
Jacob’s teacher, Nicole Berg, enjoyed the change to have her students get excited to go to college, and to know it is an option for them.
“A lot of them don’t know what college is, and that they can study all kinds of different majors,” she said. “It’s good for them to be aware of that.”
Howard Elementary teacher Karalee Graves attended the event for the second time, and said it made a difference for her students last year.
“It gives them the idea there is something beyond high school,” she said. “Last year, we found the children wanted to learn more about careers after attending, and wanted to talk more about college.”
Abbie Smith, president of United Way of Howard County, said the day allows the children to pictures themselves as college students.
“You can’t be it unless you can see it. Now they can see themselves on a college campus,” she said. “It’s important to support our kids. They all have hopes and dreams at this age, and we want to come alongside and help them achieve those dreams.”
Part of that help is financial, because research shows that children who have money in a college savings account are seven times more likely to go to college, and a child with designated savings from $1 to $499 is more than four and a half times more likely to graduate from college than a child with no savings account.
As part of the Howard County Promise, each child’s parents may open a CollegeChoice 529 savings account, and the Community Foundation of Howard County will put the first $25 in the account. They can then ask five “champions,” relatives, friends, or any adults in their lives, to donate at least $5.29 to the account. When five people have contributed to the account, they will receive another $75 through a community match.
For more information, go to howardcountypromise.org.
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.