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Start early, finish strong

Cooke Elementary promotes a college culture amongst its fifth-grade students

November 11, 2014

The Monticello Central School District is piloting a program to engage its students in discussions about college in earlier grade levels with the hope that fifth graders leave elementary school motivated for their future in middle school and beyond.

“Part of our responsibility is introducing our students to the possibilities of continuing their education in order to help them reach their full potential,” George L. Cooke Elementary Principal Sandra Johnson-Fields said. “We’re hoping that this program will excite them about higher education and the idea of college.”

To better educate students about college, Cooke Elementary fifth-grade teachers have added a college unit to their 2014-15 curriculums. The year-long program will consist of demonstrations, tours and discussions as part of a partnership between Cooke’s fifth-grade teachers and staff at SUNY New Paltz. The district hopes to expand the initiative to the districts two other elementary schools next year.

This program stemmed from a summer meeting between Cooke Elementary Principal Sandra Johnson-Fields, SUNY New Paltz School of Education Dean Michael Rosenberg, EPIC Program Coordinator Jane Sorensen and Commissioner George Cooke, who met to discuss ways they could introduce the concept of college to students at an earlier age.

During the meeting, Sorensen shared her thoughts on how a field trip to SUNY’s campus would be beneficial to students and the importance of exposing them to the experience of college at an earlier age.

“I think that visiting a college campus is essential in planting the ‘seed’ for future learning,” said Sorensen. “If we set our students up for excellence by exposing them to the opportunity that college is a possibility we are sure to see real results.”

“The program's goal is to leave fifth-grade children motivated to take their schooling seriously in middle school and beyond, and be aware and inspired for the possibilities that lie before them,” said Superintendent of Schools Tammy Mangus. “A second goal is to instill the belief that college is an attainable thing for every student, regardless of their living or financial situation.”

Cooke Elementary’s spirited approach to getting its students interested in college began on Oct. 10 when school faculty, administrators and staff wore their favorite college sweatshirt as a way to excite children about their future.

“Seeing the different universities was a way for the students to get curious, ask questions and begin a familiarity with the concept of college,” Mrs. Johnson-Fields explained.

On Oct. 22, all fifth-grade students took a bus to SUNY New Paltz for a sneak peek of the campus.

In a recent interview, SUNY New Paltz School of Education Dean Michael Rosenberg said that college visitation days serve to motivate young students and inspire creativity as well as the pursuit of an advanced education.

“By experiencing firsthand the many attributes of SUNY New Paltz, we believe that young kids in our region will continue to strive and achieve, and ultimately seek to better their lives by attending college,” he said.

Mrs. Johnson-Fields hopes that the college visit will encourage the students to start thinking about their options for the future earlier.