Colonial pride starts early at New York school

Judy Garrett’s students are already discussing SATs, residence halls and college-level academics, but it will be a while before they actually enroll in college.

That’s because they’re 8 years old.

Garrett’s second-grade class at Genesee Elementary in Auburn, N.Y., is part of the No Excuses University Network, a group of elementary and middle schools that promote college preparedness for underprivileged children as young as five years old.

This particular class adopted GW as its university – and you can tell by the images of the GW Colonial mascot scattered across the wall. The constant collegiate reminders are important to the group of kids, Garrett said, since many of the students may not have gotten a chance to discuss attending college if they weren’t part of the program.

“Most of the students in our class will be first-generation college students,” Garrett said. “I have a graduation cap and gown in the hallway with each child’s name on the cap.”

Garrett – whose son is a junior at GW – said she approached the University to let her adopt GW for her class in 2008.

“We make GW pendants and we came up with a GW song,” she said. “We’ve written thank-you letters to GW and, for social studies, showed them where the University is on a map.”

Each classroom at Genesee Elementary has adopted its own university. Hofstra and Syracuse universities are also participants in the program.

Executive Dean for Undergraduate Admissions Kathryn Napper called Genesee’s mission “an admirable undertaking.”

She added praise for the program that “instill[s] in this more disadvantaged population a spirit of success and an understanding that college can be an attainable future goal for these students.”

But GW does not actively sponsor the relationship and has never visited the elementary school, Napper added.

Genesee Elementary principal Ronald Gorney said he makes it a personal goal of his to prepare each of his students for college. He has helped implement a custom curriculum that is tailored to fit each student’s learning strengths.

He uses an anecdote from his own family to convey the importance of the program, recalling the time his 7-year-old son told the family he wanted to be an inventor. “That’s the school you need to go to,” Gorney would say, pointing at the Cornell University campus on their daily drives.

“If I’m having that conversation, why can’t other parents have that conversation?” Gorney said. “We’ve made that conversation a reality in many households, where it may not have happened before.”

Garrett said her students are still treated as 8-year-olds – learning what the average second-grader learns – but are given the added experience of learning about a well-respected university in the process.

“The difference is they are now adding college to their vocabulary, so down the road, it’s not a foreign concept, it’s a possibility,” Garrett said.

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