ASHLAND, Ohio – Forget recess and finger paints.
Garfield Elementary students ditched their schoolbooks for a taste of higher learning.
“We’re visiting Ashland University to mostly to visit our pen pals and mostly to know what it’s like at Ashland University,” said fourth grade student Kristen Lyons.
Kristen was one of 70 fourth grade students touring campus.
The biggest highlight, for many, was meeting their college pen pals.
“It’s just exhilarating to see the kids just be so inspired, I think, just to see the beautiful campus,” said school principal Karen McGinty. “It’s been fantastic. They’ve been sharing their favorite movies and favorite colors with their Ashland pen pals and just finding out really interesting facts.”
McGinty thought of the program years ago, but through the recent help of a grant, was able to connect the younger and older students.
During the past few months, college freshman Lauren Behrendt has communicated with two students.
“In the letters, we’ve talked about how college can benefit them, and how it can benefit them in the future,” she said. “It was just shocking that they actually did know a lot about what they wanted to do in the future at the age of 9 and 10. That was pretty surprising.”
That’s exactly the forward-thinking nature McGinty wanted.
McGinty fears some of her students won’t pursue a college career because of finances.
Nearly 40 percent of students at Garfield receive assistance for the school-lunch program.
In general, about 79 percent of Ohio students graduate from high school and about 37 percent of Ohioans have a two- or four-year degree, according to the State of Ohio.
McGinty hopes the program will provide her students a fresh start.
“We’re looking forward to who will be inspired by this as a child and what will lie in their future for them,” McGinty said. “But I do think that there are great things in store for our kids, and today will start the ground work for a brighter future for them.”