CATALYST v23n2 - College for Kids Comes of Age

Volume XXIII, Number 2
Spring 1993

College for Kids Comes of Age

Mary M. Breeding
Director, College for Kids
Springfield Technical College

At the close of each year's College for Kids program, we ask the children to tell us, in their own words, what they liked best about the program and to tell us the most important thing that they learned. Statements like "the teacher and the help she gave me" and "it was fun and instructive" typify children's comments on what they liked best. "That I am special" is frequently mentioned as the most important thing that the child has learned. Such comments leave no doubt that we have come a long way toward meeting our primary objectives in developing the College for Kids program.

College for Kids, a summer enrichment program for children, administered by the Division of Continuing Education at Springfield Technical Community College (STCC), was initiated in 1983 with two primary objectives: (a) to more fully open the campus of Springfield Technical Community College to the surrounding community and (b) to introduce children of a young age to opportunities for success in a college environment.

From a handful of courses and 150 participants that first summer, the College for Kids program has flourished during its first decade to encompass almost 30 courses and 400 student participants each summer. Since 1983, over 2,000 children have participated in College for Kids, representing over 3,000 course registrations.

Developing the Program

College for Kids is structured as a collection of courses spanning a wide range of subject areas and age groupings. In designing a new program, it would be important to select, as we did, courses that take advantage of the particular strengths of your institution; e.g., faculty expertise, outstanding laboratory, computer or athletic facilities. Each course meets Monday through Thursday for a 1-1/2 to 2-hour period for two weeks resulting in 12-16 instructional hours per course. A few of the less popular courses are retired each year, and new courses are added based on suggestions from program participants, parents, and faculty.

Instructional staff are recruited from the college's own full-time and adjunct faculty as well as from the public schools. In recruiting program faculty, emphasis is placed on both curriculum development experience and proven teaching skills with the appropriate age groups(s). Former successful "alumni" of the College for Kids program are also invited to assist as tutors in selected courses.

The College for Kids program was designed as a "break-even" proposition and the current per-course fee ranges from $70-$90 and covers most course materials. STCC is an urban community college and, to insure access to our program by children from the surrounding community, the college initiated a scholarship program based on financial need in 1985. This program allows participation in up to 2 courses per child at a significant fee reduction and has served almost 300 students with a total award value of almost $25,000 since its inception. This active scholarship program ensures program access regardless of financial standing and has served to develop and maintain a diverse student body that accurately reflects our community.

Courses meet during successive time blocks that allow a child and his/her parents to design an individualized class schedule involving from 1-3 courses of specific interest to the child. This "tailored" approach recognizes the widely varying interests of children within specific age groups. Such a structure may reduce the motivation and attention problems inherent in a less flexible program that forces each child to participate in a prescribed series of learning activities with little regard for individual interests. The physical movement from one class to the next and the exposure to a different teacher and classroom setting provide a natural "break" and rejuvenation period, and children consistently express delight in being given the freedom and responsibility to move between classes.

If your institution operates a daytime summer program for adults, it is important that the meeting dates and times for the children's courses parallel those of the adults. In our experience, a significant number of adults who enroll for summer courses will add on their child's enrollment and vice versa, so complementary scheduling becomes critical.

Courses included in the most recent College for Kids program included a variety of computer offerings, courses in magic, clowning, pottery, drawing and art exploration, theater, math, creative writing, key-board skills, conversational Spanish and French, audio & video production, a range of sports-related activities, biology, electronics, cooking, and astronomy.

Though specific course selection must be based on the interests of students in your area and the special strengths of your faculty and physical resources, the following courses have proven to be our most popular over the past 5 years:

Course % of Students Participating
Computer Courses
Sports-Related Courses
(Tennis, Recreational
Activities, Karate)
Performing Arts (Audio &
Video Production and
Art Courses (Drawing,
Painting, Pottery)
Science (Biology, Botany,
and Electronics)

Getting the Word Out and the Students In

As we initiated the College for Kids program, we developed a relationship with area elementary, middle, and high school principals and guidance counselors that emphasized their critical role as primary referral sources for our program. During March and April, bookmarks and posters announcing the College for Kids program are sent to the over 200 schools in our service area, followed by a supply of the program brochures and application materials.

A prominent notice of the College for Kids program is included in the Spring and Summer brochures of the Division of Continuing Education, posters and bookmarks announcing the program are placed in community businesses and mailed to area libraries and pediatricians' offices, and advertising is placed in local newspapers. A database of names and addresses is developed on the basis of the hundreds of Community Services inquiries generated by these marketing efforts, and brochures are mailed directly to homes in April. Former College for Kids participants also receive early notification of each summer's schedule by direct mail. Each year, we ask parents how they learned of the College for Kids program; over 40% cite brochure and newspaper ads, 20% indicate that they learned of the program from their child's teacher, and 20% from notices posted in the schools or the town library.

College for Kids was established and continues to be marketed as a learning opportunity for serious students with an interest in new challenges. The program is not intended as primarily a childcare situation, and students are expected to actively participate in their classroom work. To attract this type of student, program literature emphasizes that the child is expected to take an active part in his/her learning, and each applicant is required to submit a recommendation form completed by his/her teacher. This form briefly addresses the teacher's observations of this child's level of motivation, creativity, reading skills, and social adjustment. Though a less-than-positive recommendation from a teacher has not been used to exclude a child from the program, such feedback has been used in discussions with parents and children as to appropriate course selections. The requirement for a recommendation from the teacher who knows the child best has effectively served its intended purpose of encouraging a considered self-screening process among potential participants and their parents.

Off and Running

As registrations are received, an acceptance letter, campus map, program information sheet, and individualized schedule are mailed to each child. An evening Orientation/Campus Tour program is held during the week prior to the start of classes. This brief program provides an opportunity for the College for Kids director to set the tone of the program and reemphasize the responsibility that each student has for his/her learning . The orientation also allows us to get the children out onto the campus with an adult tour guide to familiarize the children with the campus and alleviate any concerns regarding the logistics of getting to and from classes. While the children tour the campus, parents are encouraged to ask any questions that may not have been addressed in the printed material. We also take this opportunity to survey parents as to how they learned of our program, their thoughts on the relative cost of our courses, and their suggestions for new courses. This feedback has proven valuable for us in adjusting our marketing strategies and planning for the future.

As classes get underway there is a sense of excitement among both teachers and students. Our focus on providing a challenging learning experience continues throughout the course of the program as teachers complete an observation form highlighting strengths observed with each student. Certificates of Completion are then awarded to all participants who have met minimum attendance requirements. Little can compare with the enthusiasm that almost 400 young learners bring to a college campus. The children's enthusiasm filters to all segments of the college community and renews our own excitement in learning. As the program draws to a close, parents are invited to enjoy the fruits of their children's efforts--theatrical performances, magic shows, art exhibits, and demonstrations of newly-acquired skills.

New Beginnings

STCC's College for Kids program has provided exciting learning opportunities to children from 7-14 years of age for the past decade, and a high percentage of our students return year after year to try out new courses. We see many younger brothers and sisters of College for Kids "alumni" enter our program each year, and we are now beginning to see College for Kids alumni applying for admission to the College as adult students.

As we celebrate 10 successful years and enter our second decade, we believe that the history and lessons related to development, marketing, and delivery of Springfield Technical Community College's College for Kids program can be valuable to other institutions that are interested in expanding into the market represented by secondary school students.

For further information contact:
Mary M. Breeding, Director
College for Kids
Springfield Technical College
One Armory Square
P.O. Box 9000
Springfield, MA 01101
(413) 781-1317