College for Kids at Aquinas College
College can often be a looming unknown for elementary and middle school students, a foreign place where older siblings go for endless stacks of homework and all-night study sessions. However, higher education offers students more than academics, providing them with opportunities for personal, social, and intellectual development. Today, some organizations are familiarizing children with the college environment in a manner that encourages new ways of learning and socialization, building a foundation for future growth. With this vision in mind, Aquinas College and St. Thomas the Apostle School began the collaborative College for Kids program in 2009.
Amy Zakrajsek and David Faber of St. Thomas the Apostle School, along with Nannette Clatterbuck, Associate Provost at Aquinas College, initiated College for Kids to provide summer classes at Aquinas for local kindergarten through eighth grade students. “There are so many programs in Grand Rapids where it’s remediation, especially through the public schools; they’re still working on the math and reading,” said Zakrajsek, the director of College for Kids. “We wanted something that was fun for the kids, that would get them onto a college campus and help them experience what it is all about: going from one building to another for a class, just the whole atmosphere of college. We wanted to start instilling that in students throughout the Grand Rapids area, to inspire them.”
College for Kids holds a wide offering of classes in its three, one-week summer sessions, which start in the last week of June. Nearly all classes are held on the Aquinas campus, and include various programs from language arts to karate, from theatre to wilderness survival.
Class sessions are taught by both Aquinas faculty and St. Thomas teachers, Zakrajsek said. “Tim Bennett, from Aquinas, did our science program for a number of years, which was awesome. For the children to have a college professor teaching them was really cool. We also had teachers from Frederik Meijer Gardens and the Civic Theatre, so we were pulling from all of the surrounding area for our educators and instructors.”
While the programs offered by College for Kids are technically classes, Zakrajsek insisted that the program is more akin to summer camp than traditional schooling. “The kids do a lot of studying during the school year, so this might actually spark an interest in something they would want to do as an adult. Maybe the wilderness survival or science classes will lead them to something in the area of science. Through the cooking class, maybe they will realize they have a great interest in cooking, and this may lead to a career in the future. They get to explore things that they would not normally get to explore, which may spark an interest for them as adults.”
Initially, College for Kids was primarily for St. Thomas the Apostle students. “It was well received, but not a lot of people knew about it; it was a very limited audience. The next year we started getting the brochure out a little bit more, but we did limit it a bit to the local Catholic schools. It was a slow process of growth.” However, by its third year in 2011, the program had blossomed into a citywide program that included nearly 170 students from 39 area schools.
As a Catholic school in the Dominican tradition, Aquinas College is modeled after the four Dominican charisms of prayer, study, service, and community. Entering its fifth year, Zakrajsek believes that one of College for Kids’ prime successes has been its ability to build this sense of community, in a manner befitting the common mission of Aquinas College and St. Thomas the Apostle School. “It’s really neat,” she said, “because kids from all of these different schools join together at this camp. They start out not necessarily knowing each other, but by the end of the week they’re exchanging phone numbers, and the following year they may try to meet up with that same person for another class. So it is a ‘camp,’ in the sense that kids from the surrounding community are forming relationships and friendships that they continue each summer. We definitely have returning campers.”
Zakrajsek emphasized that all in the Grand Rapids community are invited to participate in College for Kids, regardless of religious affiliation or financial situation. “Definitely,” she said, “[we’re] opening it up to anybody. We want to make sure that we offer scholarships to the kids who need it.”
The 2013 College for Kids runs from June 24 to July 18 on the Aquinas campus. No classes are held the week of July 1. All classes are held Monday through Thursday; one and a half hour sessions are $50, while three hour sessions are $100. Partial scholarships are available on a need-based basis. For more information about the program or to register, contact Amy Zakrajsek at email@example.com.