More than 10,000 Clarke County children get to Experience UGA
More than 10,000 Clarke County schoolchildren will visit the University of Georgia this year through the 5-year-old innovative program Experience UGA.
The program brings students from all grades in all 20 schools of the Clarke County School District to the UGA campus for curriculum-centered field trips. Experience UGA is organized by the Office of Service-Learning and the College of Education's Office of School Engagement in partnership with the CCSD.
"This program has grown extensively in our first five years," said Shannon Walker, program coordinator for Experience UGA. "This is the first year we plan to reach full capacity by bringing every grade level to campus."
The goals of the program are trifold: to teach students the importance of and opportunities through higher education, to give students hands-on learning experiences to reinforce what they are learning in the classroom and support CCSD teachers, and to introduce students to UGA and the resources available to them.
"UGA and CCSD are both educational institutions with the same goals, and we strive to help the CCSD teachers illustrate their curriculum and to keep students excited and engaged," Walker said.
Trips cover a multitude of topics on the UGA campus from STEM programs to arts and more.
The College of Engineering hosts the fourth-graders, teaching them basic engineering principles such as tension and compression, and giving a presentation about the career fields associated with an engineering degree.
Seventh-graders travel to the State Botanical Garden of Georgia and the UGArden, UGA's student-led organic garden, to learn about urban farming through composting and beekeeping activities and conduct science experiments to explore forest ecosystems. They also get a vegetable taste test from the UGArden.
The J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, the School of Law and the University Health Center's RSVP Peer Advocates partner to host the senior class. The trip focuses on engaging students in a variety of life skills such as maintaining healthy relationships, budgeting and financial management, and learning the changing roles and rights in society for people older than 18.
Upperclassmen are also introduced to the Office of Financial Aid and the Office of Admissions to learn the requirements to attend the university.
Through these trips, students are introduced to higher education as a whole, but also to the plethora of resources available to them at UGA. The exposure starts early enough so that CCSD students can prepare to attend UGA after graduation.
"We realized that many students in CCSD did not think UGA was accessible for them, even though they live so close," Walker said. "We have a responsibility to the people in our city to support them and to make our campus accessible to high school students and potential UGA students."
Janna Dresden, director of the Office of Student Engagement in the College of Education and member of the Experience UGA Advisory Board, agrees. "It's important that all children in Clarke County realize that a college degree is attainable and that it is something to which they can aspire," she said. "Clarke County students should have the opportunity to learn about UGA and to experience the resources available in their backyard."
After the trips, teachers are given anonymous surveys for the OSL to get feedback and improve the trips from year to year. Also, 12th-grade students are given surveys to help OSL understand how the program, as a whole, has shaped their learning experience.
This year's trips will begin Sept. 19 and will continue through the school year. UGA students are welcome to volunteer with Experience UGA, and community members are encouraged to help with fundraising efforts throughout the year.