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updated: 5/16/2014 7:40 PM

Hanover Park fifth-graders play college counselors

Ontarioville fair promotes higher education as realistic goal

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  • Video: Scenes from the college fair

  • Victoria Wojcik, left, pitches Louisiana State University to Ashley Huerta on Friday as Ontarioville Elementary School fifth-graders host a college fair,

       Victoria Wojcik, left, pitches Louisiana State University to Ashley Huerta on Friday as Ontarioville Elementary School fifth-graders host a college fair,
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Philip Ayomidele explains the finer points of the University of Oregon to Diya Sonani, left, during the college fair Friday at Ontarioville Elementary.

       Philip Ayomidele explains the finer points of the University of Oregon to Diya Sonani, left, during the college fair Friday at Ontarioville Elementary.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Jaqueline Rodriguez pitches Illinois State University to third-grade teacher Danielle Froehlich.

       Jaqueline Rodriguez pitches Illinois State University to third-grade teacher Danielle Froehlich.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Fifth-grade teacher Megan Schocker fixes the tie of University of Iowa representative Edgar Jasso.

       Fifth-grade teacher Megan Schocker fixes the tie of University of Iowa representative Edgar Jasso.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

 
 

Ask 10-year-old Gaby Astorga about, say, SAT scores, and the Hanover Park girl never skips a beat.

Although she's never been to Clemson University, she knows about the dorms, the extracurricular activities and the path to get there.

"Get good grades, save enough money, and you'll just go straight there," Gaby says of her dream school.

Dressed like professionals Friday, Gaby and about 80 of her fellow fifth-graders played the role of college counselor for their parents and peers at Ontarioville Elementary School in Hanover Park.

It's a "big feat" that the youngsters understand the difference between financial aid and scholarships, teachers say. It's an even bigger one when you consider the roadblocks they face to higher education.

More than 94 percent of the students are from low-income families. Many have never met someone who went to college.

Unfazed by all that, fifth-grade teachers Nicole Tucker, Megan Schocker and Veronica Dominguez handed their students a test in March: research a college, write a 10-page paper and display the findings on a poster board for the two-hour college fair.

The educators set out to change some young minds who thought college was a nice but unreachable goal.

"There's been some ups and downs," Tucker said.

Students took a field trip to Aurora University. Counselors from that campus and Central Michigan University visited Ontarioville. And kids applied for a scholarship funded by Google.

As the college fair approached, the educators saw the enthusiasm from students taking ownership of their own college planning.

"Some of our struggling learners have just come out of their shell for this project and just blossomed," Tucker said. "This is like their life-changing moment in fifth grade."

On Friday, students showed off their work inside the Ontarioville gym, decked out with donated college pennants and blue, orange and white balloons. Well-versed in college admission tests and tuition, students greeted visitors politely and answered questions, trying not to peek at flash cards.

"Some of the kids are outstanding," said dad Gordon Carroll, admiring the buzzing room. "The presentation, the way they carry themselves -- they're like adults."

Schocker hopes to start the project even earlier next school year and bring more colleges and donors on board. And she will remind her students to plan for their future -- early.

"When you hold them up to a high expectation, they'll beat it," she said.

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