Elementary school children learn what college is really like at USCB

Teenagers hear the message often: It's never too soon to start planning for college.

On Monday, about 150 Hilton Head Island children heard it nearly a decade before they'll graduate from high school.

Hilton Head Island International Baccalaureate Elementary School bused its third-graders to the University of South Carolina Beaufort for a tour of the Hilton Head Gateway Campus and a chance to hear from students and professors about what college is really like.

For many, including third-grader Andrea Gomez, it was their first time on a college campus.

"I like it because it's big," said Gomez, who hopes to become a dentist. "And it has a big library where you can drink coffee. And the kids don't have to wear uniforms."

Student Tarik Dixon's eyes widened as he passed the foosball table, gym and gift shop in the university's campus center.

"It has lots of space and a big, big cafeteria," he said. "And they have a soda machine."

Frances Ferrene, a guidance counselor at the elementary school, said she hopes the campus visit develops students' interest in higher education and a career path.

"It's about planting the seed and having these children become excited about education in general and the options they'll have if they do well," she said. "We think it starts at an early age."

Principal Jill McAden said the field trip gave students a better understanding of higher education and some excitement about their future.

"They are so pumped up about college," she said.

In addition to the campus center, students toured the nursing lab, where they heard lifelike human simulators cough, wheeze and hiccup.

They talked to biology professor Steve Borgianini about science courses and the difference between college instruction and the way students learn in elementary school. In college, students complete more work independently, he said.

"Our job is to teach you to teach yourself," Borgianini said.

Students also visited the library, where Dixon was impressed by a student writing an essay.

"She was at her computer with a big chapter book in front of her," he said. "And she was typing so fast. There were like 200 words on the page, but she wasn't even done."

He paused for moment before concluding, "Well, you're going to have to like homework when you get into college."