Nina Kent sat behind a desk, flanked by sentinels with crossed arms and shades, watching the spectacle.
In front of her, congressmen quarreled with each other, firing suggestions at a faux House Speaker John Boehner. Their goal: Pass a law that would improve education.
"More teachers!" One representative insisted.
"Better textbooks!" Another cried.
A hands-on lesson on how a bill becomes a law was one of many that professors at College of the Redwoods provided to Del Norte County's fourth-graders Friday. More than 280 youngsters participated in the "I'm Going to College Program," which attempts to teach students that college is an attainable goal.
"We've been doing this for several years," said Becky Blatnick, a director and counselor for CR's Student Support Services Program. "In fact, the graduating seniors class at Del Norte High School were (some) of the fourth-graders that came over here. I'm enrolling them in college and talking to them about when they came to this event."
In Jennifer Gardner's Government 101 class, which she transformed into Washington, D.C., the education bill that started in the U.S. House of Representatives shot over to the Senate, which added more provisions, before passing it back to the House. When it appeared before Nina - aka Barack Obama - the bill called for more physical education, more teachers, more tutors, more computers, new textbooks and more money for schools.
The Mary Peacock Elementary School fourth-grader, who wants to work with animals when she grows up, added her Jane Hancock, turning the bill into a law.
Gardner, a political science and history professor, transformed her students into senators and congressmen. She singled out a handful of youngsters to be House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Representatives of either gender filled those roles. But Gardner chose girls to fill the president's desk
"We have never had a woman president," Gardner told her class, admitting that she was being somewhat biased. "We're going to pretend that Barack Obama is a woman."
Mini college students trooped from class to class at CR, learning from professors, student advisors and even the college students themselves. But before the youngsters set foot on campus, their teachers had talked about what it would take to get to college.
The "I'm Going to College Program" was created by the California Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators in 1990, Blatnick said. The local program is sponsored by the Northcoast California Student Opportunity and Access Program, or CalSOAP, as well as by the Building Healthy Communities Initiative.
Before their visit to CR, students spent six weeks learning about what college is, how to pay for it and the careers available to those with a degree, said Cal-SOAP Program Director Cindy Porter.
In the weeks leading to the campus visit, students learned about community college and four-year public and private universities, Porter said. Teachers also talked about career technical education and fields that require specialized and advanced training, she said.
"It gets them thinking about college ahead of time," said Porter. "We work with middle school and high school students, but this is our youngest event."
Northcoast Cal-SOAP, which operates under the Humboldt County Office of Education, targets low income and first-generation college-bound students in Humboldt and Del Norte counties. In Humboldt, seventh- and eighth-graders also get a taste of college life by visiting CR's Eureka campus and Humboldt State University, Porter said.
Crowded on the lawn under the May sunshine sporting "I'm going to college" T-shirts and backpacks, six children were asked by Blatnick what they'd like to do when they grow up. But the kids were so enthusiastic, Blatnick didn't stop at six.
One student said he wanted to major in chemistry and quantum physics so he can be "a great leader in history."
Isabella Rosentrater, another Mary Peacock fourth-grader, said her goal is to be a botanist.
"I want to go around the world and discover unknown plants in unknown places," she said, adding that she will either attend College of the Redwoods or the University of Oregon. "I want to discover a new plant no one knows about."
Rosentrater and her peers learned about micro-fiction from English Professor Ruth Rhodes. Nursing students taught them how to clean a wound and apply a Band-Aid. The students also created a coat of arms and became "Knights of Redwood" courtesy of Student Development Advisor Caylor Cuevas. In addition to their T-shirt and backpack, the fourth-graders left CR with an "I'm Going to College" degree.
Back in Gardner's class, the professor gave her students homework before she allowed Congress to adjourn.
Gardner explained that senators, congressmen and presidents get where they are through a vote of the people. She told her students to ask their parents who they voted for in the last election and why, and to make sure their parents gave them good answers.
"It's not about who you voted for, but why," she said. "I'm reminding students that they may not be old enough to vote, but their parents are."
Reach Jessica Cejnar at firstname.lastname@example.org .