Fourth-graders tour college and get crash course in preparing to be top applicants

Shannon Walkley selected nine students, grade-point averages ranging from 3.0 to 4.0, and stood them up in front of their peers.

They each had applied to the University of Awesome and Walkley, and an academic advising coordinator, needed to know what kind of student they would be.

"We're going to be college admissions counselors," she told the rest of the group. "We can only admit three people."

Walkley's exercise showed that colleges don't just take grades into consideration when admitting students. The lesson was one of many that instructors at College of the Redwoods provided to Del Norte County's fourth-graders on Friday.

Nearly 300 youngsters participated in the "I'm Going to College" program, which attempts to teach students that college is an attainable goal.

"I think they get an idea of possibilities," said Kendall Pickenpaugh, a fourth-grade teacher at Joe Hamilton Elementary School. "So many haven't had parents in college. This helps get them thinking about the future."

Cindy Porter, Northcoast CalSOAP director, talked to them about the possibility of enrolling in college classes when they attend Del Norte High School. Financial aid and scholarships were topics also covered at the event.

Del Norte's "I'm Going to College" program is sponsored by the Northcoast California Student Opportunity and Access Program, or CalSOAP, by the Building Healthy Communities Initiative and College of the Redwoods.

Northcoast CalSOAP, which operates under the Humboldt County Office of Education, targets low income and first-generation college-bound students in Humboldt and Del Norte counties.

Anita Janis, director of CR's Del Norte Education Center, said this year's crop of fourth-graders was the largest since the program started. Janis explained to the students that CR's Del Norte campus is a commuter college.

"I was told that people will have five to six careers in their life time," she said. "It's up to you to make a choice and be open to different things."

In the library, Walkley read off a series of questions designed to narrow the field of potential applicants to the University of Awesome. Students who participated in school sports, played a musical instrument and wrote the optional application essay moved up the line. Those who didn't participate in any extracurricular activities moved down the line.

At the end of the exercise fourth-grader Angelo Maroki was the first to be admitted even though he only had a 3.4 GPA.

"I thought it was amazing," he said.

Walkley, who helps high school students plan and prepare for college, said the activity she led her group of fourth-graders through was designed by College Board, which produces the SAT test. She said she uses the same activity with high school students.

"Grades matter, but it's not the only thing that matters," she said. "We want to see people who will get involved, try new things and contribute to our school community."

Earlier that morning Pickenpaugh's students designed a coat of arms. Led by Student Development Advisor Caylor Cuevas, the students wrote down or drew pictures about who their heroes were, what their favorite animal was and what interested them.

According to Cuevas, making their own coat of arms gives students an opportunity to figure out what they're interested in.

"A lot of students are undeclared and unsure what they want to pursue," he said. "They have to enjoy what they're going to be doing in the world of work."

Reach Jessica Cejnar at