It is never too early to learn about the value of a college education.

This spring the College of Charleston helped local school children do just that when the institution hosted 50 kindergartners from Sanders-Clyde Elementary School for “Kindergarten College.” The program, developed by the Furman University Riley Diversity Leadership Initiative, is designed to give kindergartners from a low-income school a taste of college life.

Elementary students look at fossils at the Mace Brown Museum of Natural History. (Photos provided)

Studies show that children whose parents went to college are more likely to go to college themselves. But for children in low-income families, college may be a foreign concept. One of the goals of Kindergarten College is to foster a sense of belonging in the students and plant a seed that college is for them, not just children from wealthier schools.

During the campus tour, the children were shown into a classroom, where Rénard Harris, associate vice president and chief diversity officer, reinforced this message.

“If you think you’re beautiful, raise your hand! If you think you’re smart, raise your hand!” Harris asked the children.

Playing a harmonica, Harris then told the students a story about a spider diligently weaving a web even after it had been torn down. The message was one of perseverance.

Students spent the day participating in projects ranging from looking at dinosaur bones at CofC’s Mace Brown Museum of Natural History to enjoying a picnic in the Stern Center Gardens.

Ja’Brion Grice and Sayvon Lee, two members of the College’s Call Me MISTER program, organized games with the kids outside the museum. And, the School of Education, Health, and Human Performance put together 70 bags of College of Charleston items for the students to take home.

“It was a truly memorable experience for the students,” said Elizabeth Warlick, a Sanders-Clyde kindergarten teacher. “Many of them are still bringing up aspects of the trip on a daily basis.”

The “Kindergarten College” concept was inspired in part by James Baldwin’s essay, “A Stranger in the Village,” an essay about how African Americans have long been treated as strangers in their own country – and how this creates social isolation and division.

Featured image: Elementary students from Sanders-Clyde Elementary School pose with Ja’Brion Grice and Sayvon Lee, two members of the College’s Call Me MISTER program.