May 9-15, 2003
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Youths get taste of college life
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Graduation 2003
Youths get taste of college life
U.Va. student Janay Jones (left) works with Alvita Adams, an eighth-grader at Buford Middle School, during one of the study sessions held in the school’s library this spring.
Photo by Peggy Harrison
U.Va. student Janay Jones (left) works with Alvita Adams, an eighth-grader at Buford Middle School, during one of the study sessions held in the school’s library this spring. Jones is one of some 40 U.Va. students who volunteer their time in U.Va.’s “Day in the Life” mentorship program. U.Va. students are paired one-on-one with their middle-school mentees.

Mentoring program is result of efforts to improve town-gown relations after recent attacks on college students by area adolescents.

By Fariss Samarrai

U.Va. Athletics director Craig Littlepage speaks to participants in the “Day in the Life” program at a picnic April 22, which marked the end of the program’s first year.
U.Va. Athletics director Craig Littlepage speaks to participants in the “Day in the Life” program at a picnic April 22, which marked the end of the program’s first year.

What do you do with middle school students who are smart, funny, maybe a little sassy, and not on track to go to college?

Send them to college.

That’s what the University of Virginia is doing with about 40 students from Buford Middle School in Charlottesville.

The Buford students are getting a taste of college life firsthand from U.Va. students who are serving as mentors, inspirational guides and friends.

“U.Va. students are a part of the Charlottesville community,” said first-year student and mentor Cassidy Fludd. “We should share our college life with kids in the community.”

The program, called “A Day in the Life,” is in its first year, and already the Buford students have spent a lot more than a day in the life of their U.Va. student mentors. The pairs study together, go to U.Va. sports and social events together, attend U.Va. classes together and stay in regular communication, even during school breaks. The Buford students are seeing firsthand that college is fun and challenging, and that college students do more than party.

“We want the middle school students to see college life through the lives of our students and to realize that college is within their reach, if they’re willing to work for it,” said Don Blake, a community outreach consultant for U.Va. who helped found the program.

Students at a picnic listen to speakers, including Littlepage, talk about plans for Day in the Life.
Picnic photos by Fariss Samarrai
Students at a picnic listen to speakers, including Littlepage, talk about plans for Day in the Life.

“We are focusing on kids in middle school because they are at an age where they can be turned on to school and learning. We are demystifying college.”

After a series of racial incidents in Charlottesville in the past two years, the University has been criticized for neglecting minority residents in the community.

An initiative of U.Va.’s Community Relations Office, the Day in the Life program addresses these concerns by promoting tangible interactions between U.Va. and local youngsters.

Organizers plan to expand the program to other schools in Charlottesville, said Ida Lee Wootten, interim director of community relations.

Young people currently in the program will be able to continue with it through their high school years.

U.Va. student Myra Franklin, right, mentors several students during a study session at Buford Middle School Library.
Photo by Peggy Harrison
U.Va. student Myra Franklin, right, mentors several students during a study session at Buford Middle School Library. Franklin will be president of U.Va.’s Black Student Alliance next year. Her goal is to enlist a diverse group of U.Va. students, including all members of the BSA, in various volunteer efforts, such as Day in the Life.

Middle school students are selected by the Talent Development Program of Charlottesville City Schools. The students have demonstrated leadership abilities, high intelligence, motivation and college potential.

Many come from minority families who have little or no higher education experience. The children’s parents are required to be active participants in the program and to interact regularly with their child’s mentor.

“Our goal is to help these students realize that higher education is an achievable goal,” said Danny Wilmer, U.Va. community outreach officer. “We are trying to build respect and appreciation for higher education.”

U.Va. student mentors commit to at least one year in the program, but most hope to continue mentoring their Buford counterparts until they graduate.

“I want to share my academic life with my mentee,” said Fludd, a first-year African-American student. “I want to show him that if I can get here, so can he. I’m trying to be a light in his path.”

Fludd plans to stay with the program for her remaining three years at U.Va, guiding her pupil along the path.

Program organizers recently held an end-of-year picnic for participants to celebrate the first year of the program. The students played football and volleyball, ate plenty of hamburgers, hotdogs and cookies, and were awarded T-shirts and other mementos. It was clear the middle schoolers and U.Va. students had formed strong bonds together as pairs and as members of the larger group.

Craig Littlepage, U.Va. athletics director, spoke about the importance of perseverance in overcoming failure and roadblocks, a trait he said all successful people share. “You have to find the strength inside of you to achieve the things you want to do in life,” he said.

Ronald W. Hutchinson, superintendent of Charlottesville City Schools, also spoke with students and expressed his appreciation for the participants.

Butch Jefferson, a former U.Va. football player now working on a master’s degree in education, mentored students at Jack Jouett Middle School during his undergraduate years. He is now serving as an informal consultant to A Day in the Life program.

“I knew that U.Va. students would jump at the chance to do this,” he said. “And it means a great deal to the middle school kids to know that college kids care about them.”

One middle schooler in the program, Brandon Thompkins, said his mentor, fourth-year economics major Connie Dong, is like a big sister to him. They study together every Saturday, go to events together and learn from each other.

Brandon wants to be a carpenter, so Dong takes him to construction sites on Grounds to look at the progress of the work. She also subtly encourages him to think about college and to keep an open mind to a variety of career options.

“He’s curious by nature, and asks a lot of questions,” she said. “I try to open his horizons and to perpetuate his interests.”

Dong is starting a job at IBM in Northern Virginia after she graduates, but she said she plans to continue to visit Brandon when she can and to take him on a trip to Washington to see the museums and monuments.

Like the other mentors, she is giving a lot more than a day in the life.


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