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A different kind of prospective visit:

It may have been a Saturday morning, but a group of 36 eager students sat in the McInnis classroom ready to learn.

But these were not your average twenty-something college students with coffee cups in hand. These young minds were a select group of fourth graders from the John Barry Elementary School in West Philadelphia.

As part of a long-standing relationship between the Barry School and Eastern, April 17 served as the final visit day of the year for elementary students to experience life on a college campus.

English professor Nancy Thomas and Director of Student Teaching and Field Experiences Dr. William Yerger organized the event.

Several students also volunteered to help organize the numerous activities and workshops for the fourth-graders, including a theater workshop, relay games, a nature walk and arts and crafts.

“The idea is to offer workshops with the college students so that the students get to know the college students and that learning is fun,” Thomas said.

Thomas began to work with the Barry School in 1992 when she had several urban students in her English courses.

Thomas commented that “they had some challenges being at Eastern because of the impoverished education they had in the city.”

Now, Thomas travels to the school once a week to volunteer and lead a poetry class for sixth grade boys.

“Just seeing the situation and seeing the wonderful children that are being consistently overlooked by the overall society is what motivates me,” Thomas said.

Each year, Thomas and Yerger plan three visit days to Eastern, which lead up to a week-long camp during the summer. The visit days are used to help determine which students will get the privilege of attending the camp on Eastern’s campus, staying in the residence halls and eating in the Dining Commons.

“It’s a great opportunity to have that exposure to the college,” Barry School guidance counselor Jennifer Poulos said of the visit days. “We use it as an incentive to make good choices. We say, you know, we can’t just send anyone to a college campus.”

Poulos said that she is extremely thankful for the time and attention Thomas, Yerger and others put into the relationship between the schools. She said it is evident that a lot of thought goes into each activity in order to make it meaningful to the students.

The visits also give these students a chance to develop relationships with college students and realize that attending college can be a real possibility in their future. In addition, traveling to the picturesque campus lets the students enjoy a new setting outside of the city.

“Some of the kids look around and they are amazed,” Yerger said. “Some of them have only seen a few trees in their lives. Some of them have never been out of the city. When they come here, this is another world for them.”

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