BLACKSBURG - For the past four days - while their friends were probably on basketball courts, on skateboards or lying across beds with telephones attached to their ears - 49 high school freshmen have been at Virginia Tech getting a taste of college life.
Since Sunday, Tech's Slusher dorm has been their home while the students participate in the Better Information Project Summer Program, a workshop sponsored by the state
Council of Higher Education and the state Department of Education. The workshop, which ends today, is geared to attract black students to higher education long before they must decide whether to go to college.
"There is a decline in the proportion of black students in Virginia's colleges and universities," said Cora Salzberg, state director of the program.
"This program is designed to increase the number of black students in the state-supported colleges and to decrease the disparity between the black and white college-going rate of Virginia's high school graduates."
While at Tech, the students have taken classes in math - introduction to algebra, geometry and trigonometry - writing vocabulary, English composition, word processing, study skills, test-taking strategies, problem solving and brainstorming. The classes were designed for the students and are taught by volunteers from Tech's faculty.
This is the first time the workshop has been held in the form of a summer program on a college campus. Tech was chosen as the site because of its location, resources and willingness of its faculty and staff, Salzberg said.
The program is planned to continue every summer - at different college and university campuses - with the same students until they leave high school. Freshmen will be brought into the program each year, and Salzberg said she hopes Tech will allow workshops for first-year students to be held on its campus.
Better Information Workshops have been held across the state in schools and churches and through community organizations. During the workshops, students and their parents learned about financial-aid requirements. They also learned typical college-environment course requirements to help students design their high school curriculum.
At Tech, professionals in different fields gave the students insight into various careers . Tuesday night, for instance, Charlie Yates, a black engineering professor at Tech, told the group abut his job.
Hands shot up as students asked questions:
"What do engineers do?" "How much money do engineers make?" "Just what does aerospace engineering involve?" "What classes do you have to take?"
The program has caught on. It has 14-year-old Aaron Foster of Richmond already "excited" about college.
"It's a good experience," Foster said. "It prepares you for high school and helps you get a jump on other kids [who are] not in this because you can learn a little bit extra. When school time comes, you might know a little bit more than they do."
Foster, a student at Richmond Community High School, said he has thought about following his sister's footsteps and applying to Tech's aerospace engineering department.
If Calbert Jones, 14, of Waverly follows his intended path and goes to college, he will be a first in his family. The sixth of seven children, Jones said his older siblings chose the military instead.
"I'll be more motivated about school because I see how hard college is and I want to go to college," said Jones, a Sussex Central High School student.
Salzberg said the program is designed for freshmen because "that's when they select the academic or vocational track."
"If they decide they don't want to go to college, they will have a strong educational background, which will prepare them for many different professions."
Carol Westbrook, a 13-year-old student at George Wythe High School in Richmond, said the program instills a sense of direction.
"I think the biggest advantage is knowing what you have to look forward to when you do enter college," she said.
"A lot of people who came here might decide they might need to wait before entering college,. A lot of people who were planning on not going to college and going to a trade school, now they're interested and at least considering going to college."