This summer, high school graduates won’t be the only ones getting the college experience.
For three days in May, before the summer semester starts, sixth graders from charter schools all over Michigan will get the chance to explore NMU and Marquette as a part of the Young Wildcats program that NMU’s School of Education started five years ago.
“They are basically college students for three days,” said Joe Lubig, associate dean of the School of Education. “They meet with businesses in our society and work with them to create a connection between school and the real world.”
This year, the camp will take place May 16 through 18.
Last year, the camp hosted more than 160 sixth graders along with their teachers and chaperones. They stayed in the dorm rooms on-campus for the duration of the camp.
“We really could not have been this successful without the help of the Housing and Residence Life office,” Lubig said. “They were able to clean out enough rooms to house these kids in only a few weeks time.”
Once at the camp, the children get to enroll in classes that interest them, such as fishing and wildlife, physics, writing and nursing.
“Last year, we had a video journalism class where the project was to bring a video camera around to the rest of the classes and put together a short film about the experiences they’ve found in the camp,” Lubig said. “They were so excited about this project and even the adults would get in on it.”
The classes are led by academic professors, student volunteers and local business owners.
“We’ve gotten over the hump with community participation in this program,” Lubig said. “We have places like Sayklly’s volunteering to show the kids how to make candy. Each business has important lessons to teach these kids.”
Each class is taught with a hands-on approach to connect what is learned in the classroom with real life applications.
“Once they get comfortable with the program, the kids get very serious and they ask a lot of questions,” Lubig said. “Our main goal here is to show them how post-secondary school can help them to achieve their dreams.”
Lubig said sometime during the camp, the dean of students takes time to talk to the sixth graders about their plans for the future and answer their questions about the different departments at NMU.
“It is kind of neat to see the kids traveling for eight hours to get here and be totally excited about it,” Lubig said. “They want to keep coming back. The program is really just selling itself to the point where a seventh grader will talk about what to expect and really psych them up for the camp.”
At the end of the program, Lubig leads the children up Sugarloaf Mountain on a hike.
“I’m always very impressed when we get up there,” Lubig said. “They are always so appreciative of the camp. It’s really cool and seeing the beautiful view on top of the mountain just brings it out of them.”
The Young Wildcats program started with a Wildcat fund from NMU.
That opened the doors for more federal and state grants to help kick start the program.
“We’re starting to think of ways to make this program self-funding because these grants won’t stick around forever,” Lubig said.
Now, the sixth graders from the first year of the Young Wildcats program are old enough to be in high school.
Lubig said he would like to know how they are doing and if the program has influenced them to be successful in school.
“We’re trying to figure out a way to stay connected with these kids,” Lubig said.
For more information or to volunteer, email Joe Lubig at email@example.com.