College fair at Richmond middle school starts discussion early

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How much does it cost, and do you need a 4.0 grade point average to get in?

These were key questions posed by 8th grade students at DeJean Middle High School on Thursday, where a unique pilot program brought a full-fledged college fair to their school.

The Richmond Promise Middle School College Fair aimed to get hundreds of local students talking together about college early on. Rather than just having college counselors give advice, 9th graders at Kennedy High led discussions at this college fair.

The event was planned as part of College Signing Day 2017 — part of Michelle Obama’s Better Make Room initiative. 

For the past six months, Kennedy High students spent time preparing for the event as part of their College and Career Class, said Jessie Stewart, executive director of the Richmond Promise program. They met with college students twice monthly to chat about the college experience, worked on a 10-year plan and also researched dozens of colleges and universities throughout the U.S.

Then at DeJean Middle on Thursday, they shared what they learned with the whole 8th grade class.

Stewart, who came up with the idea for the college fair, says it’s part of the Richmond Promise team’s broader plan to inspire a college-going culture in the city.

The Richmond Promise is a $35 million college scholarship program that offers every college-going local high school senior up to $1,500 annually to attend a 2-year or 4-year college or university. The program, funded through a $90 million community benefits agreement connected to the Chevron Richmond Modernization Project, also guides students through the financial aid process.

Thursday’s college fair included a number of other college, education and community resources, as well as a panel discussion with college students and graduates who explained how they made their college experience affordable and worthwhile.

Having this discussion early on helps to relieve anxieties and dispel myths attached to colleges and universities, which some local kids think are unattainable to them.

“I feel it’s important for them to know so it’s not a culture shock to them,” said Omar Mendoza, a Contra Costa College student who volunteered as a program mentor. “They see it coming, and they can prepare for it.”

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