Shouting at Hill-Hope Elementary is typically against the rules. Unless, that is, it happens to be University T-shirt Day and the students are at a school-wide rally, chanting the words “I am college bound!” at the top of their young lungs – all at Principal Cassandra Ashley’s request. University T-shirt day is part of the school’s University Week program, designed to expose students to the little-known (or even imagined) world of higher education.
“I was the first in my family to go to college,” Dr. Ashley recalls. “I want the children to know if they work really hard, the dream of college can be theirs. College can change their life as it changed mine.”
“Each school is special in its own way,” says Hill-Hope teacher and Morehouse graduate Jaron Trimble. Along with several of his Hill-Hope peers, Trimble stood in front of the rapt students and shared his favorite college memories, trying to impress upon them the importance of starting to work towards that college goal now. “I’m hoping to plant the seed that helps them see the relationship between now and eight years from now,” Trimble added. “That seed requires continual cultivation.”
Fifth-graders also shared their experiences from recent tours at college campuses such as Georgia State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Spellman College and Emory University. Hill-Hope corporate partner Heery International arranged for Emory’s inclusion on the students’ itinerary. “Even though it’s only 10 minutes away, Emory is like another world for most of these students,” says Heery Vice-President Martha Pacini. “What few people realize is that they give two scholarships each year to Atlanta Public Schools graduates. There’s no reason those scholarships couldn’t go to Hill-Hope alumni.”
Beyond arranging the Emory tour, Heery kicked the rally excitement up a notch by coordinating a T-shirt round-up from colleges and universities across the country. Students proudly wore their shirts, which hailed from diverse institutions such as nearby Spelman College and far-off University of Alaska Southeast.
“A significant portion of our work as architects and engineers comes from colleges and universities across the country,” Pacini says. “When Dr. Ashley shared her vision for University Week, my vision for Heery’s contribution was to make sure each student had a college shirt of their own. We called on our higher education clients, worked with organizations such as the National Association of College and University Business Officers, Thompson Hospitality and Follett Higher Education Group, and spoke with employees, asking them to donate shirts and help excite these children about the world of possibilities that exist out there.”
“Up until now, we’ve had the children researching institutions attended by our teachers,” Dr. Ashley notes. “To be able to expose them to such a wealth of colleges and universities from across the country, some of which I’d never heard, went beyond my wildest dreams.”