By Jenn Smith, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Wednesday, April 09
NORTH ADAMS — Berkshire County Goes to College Day is one small step for sixth-graders but one giant leap — it's hoped — toward a better future.
An initiative of the Berkshire County Compact for Higher Education and spearheaded by Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, the mission is to raise awareness of a college education at an early age.
The project includes the county's four colleges and all sixth-graders attending public schools.
"The dreaming starts today," said Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, who addressed 180 students at MCLA yesterday morning.
As vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Higher Education, Downing has a vested interest in the success of this cause. And although the dreaming may have started, Downing noted that the whole county must push the momentum toward a reality.
MCLA President Mary Grant told the students that a college education is important and can be part of their future. "Imagine that this is something you're going to do someday," she said.
According to the state Department of Education, a total of 11,436 students in Grades 9 through 12 dropped out of school during the 2006-07 school year.
"How many of you have heard, 'Maybe if you were smarter or didn't have a learning disability, you could go to college?' " asked Annie Ruvolo, who is coordinator of orientation and student activities, and the college's tennis coach. Some students in one group raised their hands.
She encouraged them to overcome the hearsay and get ahead.
"I need you all to promise me that, starting today, you're going to do everything you can to prepare yourself for college," Downing said to the students, noting that it means staying in school, working hard and getting parents involved.
"In return, we're going to do everything we can to make (college) affordable and accessible. We need you to come back to Berkshire County," he said.
The purpose of this week's visits to MCLA, Berkshire Community College, Williams College and Bard College at Simon's Rock, is to give the sixth-graders initial access to a campus and to its opportunities.
"It gets them thinking," said Clarksburg middle school teacher Audrey Witter. "They're at an age where they're open, and it's a good time to put the thought in their minds," she said.
Although activities vary by visit, the experience includes campus tours, classroom demonstrations and workshops, on-campus dining, and meetings with faculty, staff and students.
Yesterday at MCLA, the middle-schoolers got to feed sea anemones with marine biologist Anne Goodwin and to watch laboratory experiments with chemist Rob Harris.
Clarksburg sixth-grader Mackenzie Bona said that she and her friends don't talk about college that much, but believes it is a good idea.
Asked why she thought college was important, Katie Curillo said, "to get a job."
Television station director Peter Gentile put the students in control, giving them a crash course in TV technology.
"College is more than just sitting in a library with books. There's a whole other life to it," he told students from Clarksburg.
Asked what he thought of the experience, Clarksburg's Joey Levanos said, "I think it's pretty awesome. It gives us information of what it's like going to college."
The Berkshire County Goes to College program continues today with close to 300 students from three towns touring Berkshire Community College. Tomorrow, Herberg Middle School students will visit MCLA, and South County students will head to Simon's Rock on Friday.