January 31, 2014

Starting young: Columbia students tour IUK

College program for fifth-graders relaunched

By Amie Sites Pharos-Tribune

---- — Fifth graders at Columbia Elementary performed an experiment, played doctor and listened to an astronomer talk — all while learning about college.

Students toured Indiana University Kokomo Wednesday as a part of the recently restarted “Gotta Go,” a college visit program for fifth-graders at Columbia Elementary.

While at IUK, students split in groups — some participated in a science experiment while others “played doctor” at the nursing simulation center, learned about financial aid and talked to an astronomer at the observatory.

The visit was made possible with the help of State Senator Randy Head and State Representative Bill Friend. Head and Friend worked together to provide the transportation funding to restart the “Gotta Go” program this year.

The program, which teaches college basics and encourages students to pursue higher education, was launched several years ago after a fifth-grade field trip to a Purdue University football game showed a majority of students didn’t have any knowledge of college, Liz Loposser, principal at Columbia Elementary, said.

That’s because a vast majority of students didn’t have close relatives who attended college, Loposser said.

“We found encouraging them to have dreams of attending college and getting a job they want didn’t have an effect because they didn’t understand any of the vocabulary,” Loposser said.

Staff knew students would be prepared if they had an understanding — which resulted in the formation of “Gotta Go.”

The program came to a halt about four years ago because of funding, but with the help of Head and Friend, it has been re-launched. The revamped smaller-scale version will involve the students visiting both Ivy Tech and IUK during the school year.

In addition to Wednesday’s visit to IUK, fifth grade students recently toured Ivy Tech and Logansport High School to see what opportunities are available.

Fauleen Lucero, music teacher at Columbia Elementary School, has been working to develop the curriculum for the fifth graders in the “Gotta Go” program. She is working to get students to think about what careers they might be interested in.

“Even in kindergarten you can ask students what they want to be,” Lucero said. “That’s what kids do — they dream about what they want to be. I want to help them see it’s possible.”

The decision to start teaching students about college at a young age was meant to help them have the understanding and knowledge they need before middle school and high school, when they need to start making decisions about life after high school, Loposser said.

Loposser said it’s important students understand they need to work on their grades and also understand there are ways to make college possible through opportunities like the 21st Century Scholars tuition program.

Lucero agreed. The sooner students talk about what they want to do, the sooner they can start developing, thinking ahead and making goals for themselves, she said.

“I start by telling students they have to have a job and going to college is a way to go and specialize in something you want to do,” Lucero said. “I then tell them how I love my job and explain to them they don’t have to hate their job.”

The “Gotta Go” program will continue each year with visits to Ivy Tech and IUK.

“We want them to understand overall what the college experience is and we want them to know it is attainable,” Loposser said. “We’re so grateful Sen. Head and Rep. Friend made it possible.”

Amie Sites is a staff reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at 574-732-5117 or Follow her: @PharosAES.