By Victoria Giardina
The College’s School of Education welcomed 275 students from Joyce Kilmer Middle School and Luis Munoz-Rivera Middle School to the brick building-lined campus for its second annual Trenton Middle Schoolers Day on April 10.
The purpose of Trenton Middle School Day was to maintain the connection between Trenton Middle School and the College, specifically the school of education. Student volunteers and faculty from the education department organized this event to create an opportunity to share and spread a love for education with a young audience. The event provided the middle school students with invaluable resources to learn and plan their academic futures both in college and beyond.
Under the mentorship of student volunteers, as well as teachers and principals from JKMS and LMRMS, in Trenton, the young students were greeted with a career fair at the lower level of Decker Hall at 9 a.m., followed by a campus scavenger hunt an hour later. They cheerfully soaked in what it felt like to be a college student with a lunch at Eickhoff Hall and musical performances by Association of Students For Africa, Treblemakers, Ritmo Latina and African-American cultural Greek life at Kendall Hall at noon.
“We did a lot of work trying to get a bunch of different majors and jobs at the career fair to expose students to different bachelor and graduate degree programs,” said Jonathan Davis, an education professor at the College and coordinator of the day. “Seeing what it is like to be a college student is our end goal.”
Eileen Heddy, the College’s Interim Director for the Support for Teacher Education Programs office, provided her perspective on a great level of reciprocity between the College and Trenton Public Schools.
“I think TCNJ has a lot to offer the community of Trenton and we have a lot to gain from a positive relationship with the community,” Heddy said.
According to Dean of the School of Education Suzanne McCotter, education students at the College begin their observation hours in an early childhood, elementary, middle or high school classroom their sophomore year and student teaching their junior year. By their senior year, they spend a full semester student-teaching.
However, the College does not view education to be a one-way street. Aside from College students gaining teaching experience at Trenton Public Schools, a district among several others in Mercer County, middle school students also have the opportunity to see how a college in their home region operates.
Kaitlynn Kelly, a freshman accounting major, commented on the experience she shared with the attending middle schoolers.
“What I truly love about TCNJ’s educational curriculum is the incorporation of CEL Day, or Community Engaged Learning Day,” said Kelly, a volunteer for the CEL program. “It is nice to see that the education in Mercer County is being reciprocated from one academic institution to another.”
While some may believe that middle school is too early to think about choosing a major, planning a career path and heading out on campus tours, Thomas Tocci, an eighth grade mathematics teacher at JKMS, thought differently.
“The earlier they get exposed, especially in an urban district, the more prepared they will be for to career paths going forward in high school and then into college,” Tocci said.
The scavenger hunt across campus was an informative spin on the traditional campus tour, as it enabled students to conceptualize what their interests are before rushing to figure it all out during junior year of high school like most other students considering higher education.
“When they are juniors, they might not have taken the classes they need,” Heddy said.
Paula Bethea, the principal at JKMS, also believed that earlier engagement for students is better.
“I remember myself during junior or senior year saying that I wanted to go to college,” Bethea said. “Being able to experience that in your eighth-grade year makes it a more tangible experience than waiting until high school.”
Bethea also noted the accomplishment of a previous student of hers, who now attends the College.
“One of my former students is (now) a College ambassador,” Bethea said. “And that is a dream as an educator to see how far my students have gone. It is more than just the college experience.”