We are standing on the campus of William & Mary and Jesenia one of my 8th Grade Academy youth (8GA for short) asks our tour guide, “How many students go here? It’s huge!” There wasn’t anything particularly memorable with her question yet it was everything all at once, one of those moments as an educator that catches your breath because you know you are making a difference. Let me explain.
This year has been whirlwind to say the least. In late fall 2016, I became the 8th Grade Academy Coordinator, a new OTRC program that meets regularly afterschool in addition to numerous Saturday trips, and serves as the next step to help prepare our youth for high school and beyond. In just a semester, 8GA youth have had the opportunity to attend five colleges, develop leadership skills, and expand their networks in the community. We have had everyone from high school students to executives from Massanutten Resort serve as mentors for our students, all helping to make 8GA a special place.
Now, back to Jesenia’s question. When we first started visiting colleges, the questions ranged from “How is the food here?” to “How long are your spring breaks?” But NOW… our students were asking questions like, “What does your GPA have to be to get into this college?” and “How do you afford to go to a university like this?” Our 2-day overnight college tour to William & Mary and Virginia State University was an experience like none other for our students. For some, it was the first time traveling outside of Harrisonburg. On the way home, the bus was alive with chatter as students compared their thoughts and experiences about the trip.
8th Grade Academy is providing life changing experiences for young people like Jesenia. I hope you find a way to join us – whether by volunteering or donating – in the years to come as we build upon the inaugural year of 8GA in the years to come!
Ms. Meredith Breeden, OTRC AmeriCorps Service Member and 8GA Coordinator, is the contributing author of this post.