"I don't think you have a heart."
It was not a comment on 13-year-old Jessica Gillian's emotional capacity - it was a wry observation from classmate Raina Hammack on her own ability to use a stethoscope.
Jessica and Raina were testing out medical equipment in the nursing skills lab at Augusta State University on Feb. 26 as part of a program designed to get them thinking about college as early as seventh grade. They and about 70 classmates from Columbia Middle School visited the university to get a taste of college life, including a look at possible majors.
Altogether, 1,900 middle school pupils will visit the campus this school year as part of the Post-Secondary Readiness Enrichment Program (PREP). Middle schoolers from Richmond, Columbia, McDuffie, Jefferson, Burke and Lincoln counties are scheduled throughout March and April, said Mary Gendernalik Cooper, program director. The program also works with Lucy C. Laney and T.W. Josey high schools in Richmond County.
"We just want to give them the idea, put it into their heads, so they can start thinking about what they're interested in," said Elaine Gantt, one of the teachers who accompanied the group from Columbia Middle School.
This was the first time the school had participated in the campus visit, so it was a new experience for the teachers, too, she said.
PREP is a statewide program offered at more than 20 Georgia public colleges. Augusta Technical College also participates, Ms. Cooper said. About 300 pupils visited Augusta State last year through PREP.
Pupils are divided into groups and are escorted around campus by Augusta State student volunteers. Each group attends two sessions on programs offered at the school, such as the session Jessica, Raina and their classmates participated in at the nursing skills lab.
While that group tested out medical equipment in the Skinner Hall lab, Melissa Johnson, assistant director of admissions at the Medical College of Georgia, spoke to another group down the hall about careers in the health profession ("60 careers in 16 fields"). She made the talk interactive by passing out worksheets that had pupils hunting for medical terminology in a word search or matching the names of medical instruments to the fields in which they're used.
Participants also learned how to conduct research for classes and papers, heard about sports participation in college and received information on admission requirements, testing and financial aid.
In an effort to encourage pupils to come to Augusta State after they graduate high school, University President Bill Bloodworth offered each pupil a voucher for free parking for a year. The voucher can be redeemed by the pupils in their freshman year at the university.
The PREP program also includes summer-school classes open to rising seventh and eighth graders. Information on the classes, which integrate different subjects into a four-week project, is available through school counselors.
Last year, participants started with the question, "How safe do people feel in Augusta?" The project included interviews of people on campus and in the community, visits to court to see how the judicial system works, surveys conducted by pupils and collection of data on crime in the city.
"Rather than a traditional sort of thing - a teacher standing in front of them, telling them stuff - the curriculum unfolds as the students pursue it," Ms. Cooper said. "Their questions push it along."
Reach Alisa DeMao at (706) 823-3223 or firstname.lastname@example.org