The middle school college kids


Too often, we read about the rat-race for college admissions; that constant pursuit of higher-education that leads to pressuring students at younger and younger ages. But for many of the students in the Hayward Unified School District, just the idea of college seemed unrealistic. Not anymore.

“If a 7th grader is ready for college, then they’re ready for college,” said Christy Gerren, Director of Student and Parent Support Programs for Hayward USD. “And that’s an opportunity they should have.”

Thanks to a new after-school program, and a partnership with Chabot College, middle school students are getting a taste of college life.

“Often one of the challenges for our Hayward students is giving them the sense that college is a place that they really belong,” said Susan Sperling, President of Chabot College. “So in contrast to some communities, and I would say, more often that not, upper middle class and wealthier communities, in which students have a sense of empowerment about going to college, we don’t often encounter that.”

More than 80 percent of the students in the district live at or below the poverty line. Many of the kids in the program are first-generation college students, meaning they will be the first in their families to go to college.

“It’s really important in a community that has high poverty to make sure that students are exposed at a much earlier age,” Gerren said. “That they understand the pre-requisites. They understand the study skills that will be necessary. They understand what a college experience is about. And we have a lot of students that don’t have that in their families.”

147 students district-wide are enrolled in the middle college program. Each credit earned is transferrable to both community colleges and four-year universities. Hayward USD Superintendent Stan “Data” Dobbs says the idea of middle college has existed for years, but it was strictly offered to high school students. Hayward’s school district is the first district in the state of California to offer this type of after-school program.

“It means that somebody is finally thinking about how to advance our children in a way that’s going to help us, help them, help the community and this country,” Dobbs said. “If they can know in their hearts and in their families know in their hearts, that in the 7th grade, we’re already guaranteeing ourselves that our kid is going to have a college education because our kids are already in college.”

Kayla Dixon is an eighth-grader at Winton Middle School. On Thursday afternoons, she stays after school to take her college course, Business 12.

“It’s a lot of pressure but it’s not pressure in a bad way,” Kayla said. “It’s like knowing that I’m going to be the reason my cousins want to go to college. They’re going to see me and say, ‘I want to follow in Kayla’s footsteps. I want to go where she’s going.’ My little brother, he’s eight and he already talks about college.”

“She’s a force to be reckoned with,” Winton Middle School principal Lisa Tess said of Kayla. “She’s going places. And I keep saying, ‘Don’t leave me behind.’ Because I know she’s going far.”

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