For these students, it’s all about college choices

It’s not a question of whether they’re going. It’s a question of where they’re going to go.

  • Wednesday, May 21, 2008 12:00am
  • News

Wearing North Carolina State T-shirts sent to their class by the university

Teacher has prompted them to pick schools

It’s not a question of whether they’re going. It’s a question of where they’re going to go.

That’s sixth-grade teacher Mark Conway’s motto for his Scenic Hill Elementary School class this year, who at the ages of 11 and 12 are already learning about which colleges they might want to attend after high school.

“I started thinking about this last year, about some way we could get the kids looking forward to their futures and setting some goals for themselves,” Conway said.

Over the summer, he bought up college pennants and other memorabilia to decorate his classroom, finishing it off with a large banner that read, “Which one will you attend?” When his students arrived for their first day, they found themselves in a college-bound environment. Since then, they’ve spent time every week in goal-setting sessions, researching colleges online and making the decision early about where they wanted to go.

“We looked at applications, what it takes to get in, all of it,” Conway said. “We started thinking about, ‘If this is where we’re headed, what do we need to do to get there?’”

Then the students wrote letters to their prospective places of study. Conway said the first batch got little response. But they wrote again, directing the letters to different departments, and the teacher said the response was overwhelming.

“We had a range from really nice written responses to free T-shirts and pennants, and then North Carolina State sent me an e-mail asking how many students we had in our class,” Conway said.

A short while later, a box arrived at the classroom with NCSU T-shirts for each of the 25 students in the class.

“It was really fun,” said Jessica Smith, 11, one of the two students to send letters to NCSU. “I was really excited to send my letter out.”

Smith said she wants to be a wrestler when she grows up, and her research found that her favorite wrestler, Jeff Hardy, attended NCSU. She also learned what it will take academically to follow in the athlete’s footsteps.

“I’ve got to keep my grades up and graduate from high school,” she said. “I think I can do it if I try really hard.”

Jacob Gambill, 12, decided he wants to stay closer to home for college, researching and writing his letter to Gonzaga University. He wants to work for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to help protect the environment when he gets older.

“I think that (Gonzaga) will give me the best education in fish and wildlife because of the region they’re in,” he said.

Students in the class sent letters to colleges across the country, Conway said, and he hopes the project will inspire them to follow through with their early plans.

“Without college, their opportunities are really limited,” the teacher said. “They need to have a chance to do as many things as possible, and college is one of those things that allows them to be the doctors and the lawyers and the veterinarians and all the things they want to be.”

Contact Daniel Mooney at 253-437-6012 or

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