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HCC College for kids

September 28, 2007|By HEATHER SEACRIST PLACIE

By the time 10-year-old Conor Joyce of Hagerstown graduates from high school, he will have already attended "college" for several years.

That's because Conor is one of hundreds of school-age children from Washington County and beyond who attend classes offered at Hagerstown Community College each summer. The program is called "College for Kids," and this summer marked its 20th year of service to younger students.

HCC's Public Information Director Beth Stull says when College for Kids began back in 1987, it was offered only one week out of the summer, for students entering grades 6 through 8. Now, the program offers more than 70 courses to about 700 students spanning six weeks of the summer. Courses are available for students entering 10th grade, all the way down to children as young as 5 or 6.

"Because we are so imbedded in the community it is easy for us to reach out to families and the young children and start to help them understand that education is a valuable lifelong process," Stull said. "You do it as something that you want to do and not something you have to do, and I think that's really reaching out and we are well-equipped to do that.

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"A lot of people think we are a college, so you don't come here until you are 18. Well, this is absolutely not true. With this, they are starting in first grade."

The first-grade curriculum includes course titles such as "The Land of Seussville!," "The Circus is in Town," and "Exploration Station." And organizers say it doesn't matter what the class, the excitement builds for students before they even set foot on campus.

College for Kids Program Manager Anne Myers remembers one story as told to her by a young pupil's mother.

"The night before his class was starting, he laid out a white shirt and a tie to wear. He is just darling, and his Mom said, 'you know, you can wear play clothes,' and he said, 'oh Mom, but I'm going to college.'"

The concept of bringing young students to a college campus for advance learning is not unique to HCC. In fact, it was originally an idea borrowed from a college in Pennsylvania, and now all of Maryland's community colleges offer some sort of summer program. What makes the one in Hagerstown special, Myers says, is its commitment and dedication to those it serves.

"We are in the community and we form relationships with customers, because of the size of the community, and because of our passion, and our interest in service. That's what sets us apart. We know our customers and have relationships with them," Myers says. "We are there greeting the parents and our students in the morning.

"Every Monday, at the start of every week, not only my College for Kids staff, but other continuing education programming managers and administrators are out on the sidewalk first thing, saying hello as cars drive by, helping you find your building, and that's very important in building trusted relationships. I am in every single classroom, every single day at least once a day."

To offer more than 70 courses per summer, the college has to find lots of instructors. But that's not a problem, according to Myers. She says both HCC professors and public school teachers compete to have a class on the College for Kids roster, because it provides the opportunity to delve into a topic they are really passionate about - where instructors are given all kinds of creative freedom and don't have to follow stringent curriculum guidelines.

The students are also there because they want to be - choosing courses on subjects they want to study, and spending an entire week, not just a few hours, exploring their personal interests. Myers says this type of child-directed and child-driven learning is the biggest difference between College for Kids and regular school.

"When I was a kid, during the summer, we liked to learn how to bake, and we liked to do science experiments, and we liked to make model rockets and set them off. So, we take that component, and we bring it into this classroom enrichment setting, so that OK, if we are learning about baking, we are also going to learn about mathematics and chemistry, or if we are learning about setting rockets off, we are also going to learn a little bit about engineering and studying space and other planets," she said. "So we are weaving together the fun of being a kid during the summer with really great instruction, and I think that's what makes it a magical experience for kids."

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