MU brings 1,000 St. Louis children to campus to show college is worth their time

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  • Woodward Elementary fifth grader Judius Bell, 10, takes in the view from the bus as he rides beside his mother Alishea Bell to MU on Saturday, where they participated in the inaugural 'Mizzou Youth Experience' day. Students in 3rd-8th grades from St. Louis Public Schools and North County school districts took a campus tour before attending the Missouri SEC football opener against South Carolina. Judius has his eye set on a career as an NFL quarterback, following his favorites Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots.

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    Students from Fanning Middle and Woodward and Woerner elementary schools pass MU students as they tour the campus during 'Mizzou Youth Experience' day on Saturday.

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    Woerner Elementary fifth graders Sahar Nasrulla, left, Vanity Bost, Sabrinia Avery and Sofia Birke join principal Peggy Meyer, top right, to cheer the Missouri Tigers as they face South Carolina at Memorial Stadium on Saturday. Ten students from Woerner were among those attending the inaugural 'Mizzou Youth Experience' day, where they toured campus before heading to the game.

  • Woodward Elementary fifth grader Judius Bell, 10, takes in the view from the bus as he rides beside his mother Alishea Bell to MU on Saturday, where they participated in the inaugural 'Mizzou Youth Experience' day. Students in 3rd-8th grades from St. Louis Public Schools and North County school districts took a campus tour before attending the Missouri SEC football opener against South Carolina. Judius has his eye set on a career as an NFL quarterback, following his favorites Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots.

  • 1

    Students from Fanning Middle and Woodward and Woerner elementary schools pass MU students as they tour the campus during 'Mizzou Youth Experience' day on Saturday.

  • 2

    Woerner Elementary fifth graders Sahar Nasrulla, left, Vanity Bost, Sabrinia Avery and Sofia Birke join principal Peggy Meyer, top right, to cheer the Missouri Tigers as they face South Carolina at Memorial Stadium on Saturday. Ten students from Woerner were among those attending the inaugural 'Mizzou Youth Experience' day, where they toured campus before heading to the game.

Joshua Avila, 11, could barely sit still Saturday in the stands of Memorial Stadium, the home of the MU football team.

“Who’s going to win?”

“The Tigers,” he shouted, pointing to the South Carolina team doing drills down on the field.

Legend has it that rubbing former Missouri Gov. David Francis' nose will lead to an 'A' on a student's next exam, as Woerner Elementary students give it a try.

The organizers who brought Joshua and hundreds of other elementary and middle schoolers from the St. Louis area to the MU campus don’t mind that he was pointing at the wrong team.

That’s because Saturday was about putting college in general — and Mizzou in particular — on their radar.

It was part of the newly minted Mizzou Youth Experience, a joint effort of Mizzou Athletics, the College of Education and several other on-campus departments.

The idea was to bus around 500 third- through eighth-graders from St. Louis Public Schools and several hundred more from districts in north St. Louis County to the Columbia campus and introduce them to the state’s flagship school while sparking an interest in thinking about their future.

The vast majority of the children were minorities. Since protests centered around race rocked the campus in 2015, the university has made recruiting minority students even more of a priority.

Unbeknownst to Ca'Juan Mosley, left, and other students on Saturday, the Carnahan Quadrangle right behind them was the site of a 2015 campground protest by black students, shown at right, that ended with the resignation of University of Missouri System President Timothy Wolfe.

“To be honest, the institution also knows it has to be better,” said Howard Richards, Mizzou’s assistant athletics director for community relations. He was hired in January to bolster the relationship between the department and St. Louis. “No one is standing around twiddling their thumbs — they’re out here doing something.”

Richards, an alumnus of St. Louis Public Schools and Mizzou, said people shouldn’t underestimate the value of the free T-shirt and game tickets the children received.

“I don’t know how many of these kids we’ll get, but some of these kids in a few years will be Mizzou students because of what they see today,” he said. “They’re going to walk around with these T-shirts, wear them until they outgrow them or they’re ripped and torn and can’t wear them anymore. But it will be a reminder of today. I don’t think we can minimize that from a $2.50 T-shirt from what that will mean.”

Woodward Elementary fifth grader Devon Fleming, 10, jumps from one column to the next as students from St. Louis Public Schools and other North County districts attended 'Mizzou Youth Experience' day on Saturday. Children had the opportunity to tour the school and attend the Missouri-South Carolina football game.

The event was backed almost entirely by donors to Mizzou Athletics, from the bus ride to box dinners for the trip home after the football game. Richards estimates it cost around $80,000.

A recurring visit like this is the goal, he said, and donors are already clamoring to contribute.

Expectation and choice

Hours before the game, Mizzou’s campus was filled with children as they teamed up with college students for campus tours.

Krystal Crouch, a counselor at Mullanphy Elementary School, was impressed by the questions the children asked, like the cost of college and how many semesters it takes to graduate.

She thought the trip provided wonderful exposure at an impressionable age, especially at a time where “there’s a difference between an expectation and choice” about attending college for some of the children.

Students from Fanning Middle and Woodward and Woerner elementary schools pass MU students as they tour the campus during 'Mizzou Youth Experience' day on Saturday.

“A lot of these kids aren’t coming from a place where it’s expected you’ll go to college,” said chaperone and former Riverview Gardens teacher Dolores Dace. “In my classroom I used to put college pennants and posters all up along the wall at the beginning of the year, and I told them ‘This is what you should do, this is what you can do.’”

That message was a theme through the day, from speeches from Mizzou leaders to one tour guide, junior Tom Blake, telling his group of students, “Remember, when you go home to tell Mom and Dad that you want to be a Tiger.”

Jordan Adams, 11, barely made it halfway through the day before she had decided she was going to attend Mizzou some day.

Sofia Birke, 10, was more coy. She wasn’t sure she wanted to come to a campus that required her to walk that much, she said with a smile. By the first quarter of the football game, though, Sofia was screaming, “Go Tigers.”

Woerner Elementary fifth graders Sahar Nasrulla, left, Vanity Bost, Sabrinia Avery and Sofia Birke join principal Peggy Meyer, top right, to cheer the Missouri Tigers as they face South Carolina at Memorial Stadium on Saturday. Ten students from Woerner were among those attending the inaugural 'Mizzou Youth Experience' day, where they toured campus before heading to the game.

Both girls came from Woerner Elementary School in St. Louis’ Bevo Mill neighborhood.

Their group ogled the fancy whirlpool in the on-campus gym and climbed on top of the Tiger statue to pose for pictures.

Lauren Cooper was among the parents who chaperoned. She gave the day a glowing review, shelling out a few extra dollars at the football game for a souvenir cup to take home.

“This is making her want to go to college,” Cooper said about her daughter, Harmony, 11.

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The Tennessee State University alumna said she would have considered Mizzou had she had a chance to experience it when she was her daughter’s age.

“We just didn’t know what our options were,” she said of her own childhood, when the choices presented were mainly historically black colleges and universities. “But now that we’re here, I’m thinking, ‘Why stop here? Why not WashU?’”

 

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