As a school principal, Faye Daniel keeps a close watch on her budget at Tyler Heights Elementary School in Annapolis and considers field trips carefully before approving them.
But Daniel had no problem approving nearly $1,000 to bus the first through fifth grades to Bowie State University in Prince George's County last week. She said she had been struck by the comments that students in the school's engineering club had made when they returned from a field trip to the U.S. Naval Academy last year.
"The kids came back and said they had no idea they could have fun in college," Daniel said.
Many students at Tyler Heights come from families whose parents have not graduated from college, and they don't have a clear concept of what college is about, said Andre Dillard, the school's assistant principal. Daniel and Dillard preside over a school where about 75 percent of the 348 students are from low-income families who qualify for the federal free and reduced meal program. More than half of the students at the school are Hispanic. Most of those students are either immigrants themselves or their parents are, Daniel said.
Daniel and Dillard said they thought that if students could visualize college life, they would be more motivated to work hard in school and try to pursue a college education.
"If we don't expose them to the college experience, they'll never get the concept," Dillard said. "We're trying to break some of that generational poverty that has happened over the years, and one of the ways to do that is higher education."
Some of the parents who went as chaperones agreed that starting early with students is a good idea.
Tina Gibson said she never went to college, but she hopes her 8-year-old son, Alantae Gibson - a third grader at Tyler - will apply to college one day as his 18-year-old sister, Dominique, did. She wants to go to Bowie State next year, Tina Gibson said.
"I love it because I wish I had done this," said Gibson, who lives in Eastport Terrace, a public housing project. "It gives him something to look forward to. There's more to life than just in the streets."
Tiona Robinson, another chaperone, said that she wants to ensure her daughter Tamiyah Young follows in her footsteps. Robinson went to Strayer University and graduated with a degree in database technology.
"I'm constantly on her about getting good grades and going to college ... because it's not easy out there today," she said.
Daniel and Dillard said they chose to take the students to Bowie State University - a historically black institution - because they hope to recruit more minority teachers from the university. "Maybe if we made connections with some of the college students, they would see how wonderful the kids are and would want to teach them," Daniel said.
In addition, Dillard and at least three other teachers at Tyler are Bowie State alumni. Dillard earned his master's degree in school supervision and administration from Bowie State in 2000.
Because of the number of students, Daniel and Dillard divided the trip into two visits. Two first grade sections and the second and third grade classes went on Monday. The rest of the first grade went with the fourth and fifth graders on Wednesday.
The kids took a campus tour and then went to eat their bagged lunches in several conference rooms.
A group of third graders sitting together seemed to have gained a better understanding of what college was.
"College gives you a good experience so you know what you want to be when you grow up," said Brandon Brown, who wants to be a police officer.
Marvin Escobar, whose parents are from El Salvador, said he thinks he wants to go to college.
"I think it's fun and great," he said. "You can go anywhere you want and get classes."
Katerine Ramirez, who emigrated from El Salvador, said she wants to go to college so that she can be a teacher.
"You can get in [college], and you can be someone," Katerine said. "You can do something that you want to do."
After lunch, the students went to an auditorium to watch sorority and fraternity members perform and talk about their majors and college life.
"Who here likes money?" said Jermaine Rawlings, raising his hand. Nearly every Tyler student raised their hands with him. "That's why I'm a banking and finance major."
Rawlings, a senior, went on to tell the students that he was in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and that he would be an officer when he graduated. That brought a chorus of "ahhhs" from the audience. Charisse Licorish, a senior nursing major, told students that it was important to go to college. "A lot of professions these days require college degrees," she said.
The biggest hit, however, came when the Bowie students did their step dances, clapping their hands and stomping their feet while rapping about the history of their fraternal organizations. The students giggled as they watched the students' moves, and hands shot up in the air when the Bowie students asked for volunteers to dance on the stage.
The step performance made a huge impression on the Tyler students, who couldn't stop talking about it when they got back to school, Dillard said. He said he didn't mind, as long as they remembered their trip to college.
"You need that hook," Dillard said. "If that's what makes them interested in college, so be it."
tyler heights enrollment
Racial makeup of the current enrollment of 348 students who attend Tyler Heights Elementary School in Annapolis:
White 3.4 %
Asian/Pacific Islander 2.3%
Source: Tyler Heights Elementary School