It was a seemingly normal day inside Southwestern College classrooms recently. A biology class was learning about chromosomes and mitochondria, clay was being transformed into works of art inside the poetry studio, 3D models were being created in Photoshop, architecture structures designed for homeless people were being finalized and a production of “Alice in Wonderland” was warming up for their afternoon performance.
But these summer classes weren’t filled with the usual adult Southwestern College student. Instead, they were filled with gifted young elementary and junior high school students who couldn’t wait another 10 to 15 years to take college classes.
Each summer for the past 42 years, the College for Kids program has partnered with local South County school districts to give fifth- through ninth-grade students the opportunity to spend two weeks taking classes at Southwestern College. The program offers two, two-week sessions each summer and fills those sessions with workshops and classes in arts, sciences, technology and culture.
This year, more than 550 students participated in the program, said Dr. Mark Meadows, director of Continuing Education, who organizes College for Kids. For Meadows, evolving the program is an important part of putting it together. This year alone, College for Kids added five new classes, including cartoon caricature, sports science, cinematography and a Philippine culture class. As a former kindergarten teacher, Meadows’ favorite part of College for Kids is seeing the kids’ infectious energy and enthusiasm each year at Southwestern College.
“This program is so good for them, they’re in a college environment and it just gives them new experiences,” Meadows said. “The students get exposed to content, instruction and disciplines that they might not get in their K-12 education.”
Mikaela Gonzalez, a 13-year-old eighth grader at Rancho Del Rey Middle School, has been coming to College for Kids for the past four years and has taken architecture, painting, keyboard and poetry classes. Gonzalez said she loves the way the programs give her a taste of what college is all about.
“We actually have to find the classrooms and figure out where they are, like real college students would,” Gonzales said. “The teachers at this campus are so nice and they help you get new ideas and become more creative. Like, last year, I took Homes for the Homeless and I learned about why people are on the streets and how we can help them.”
Parents see many benefits in enrolling their children in the program, like independence, social skills and collaboration, as well as exposing them to the opportunities available when they graduate high school. Andrea Limon enrolled her youngest daughter, Sofia, in College for Kids because she had enrolled her two oldest children in the program. They eventually attended college at San Diego State University and Southwestern College. The program, she said, was so influential to their path to higher education.
“To me, as a parent, it’s important to expose Andrea to college in a fun way,” she said. “It teaches her that college doesn’t have to be scary. My two oldest encouraged her to come and they told her, ‘you have to go, it’s a great experience.’ It really exposed them to what’s out there and the variety of things that they can do.”