Seeding the college experience

Campers visited a butterfly farm.

How do you convince a child that college is a good next step after high school?  Many parents in this post-graduation season are wondering that. “College is not for me,” is the usual defense. “I don’t need a college education.” “I’m tired of school.” When students reach high school with those attitudes, it is difficult — sometimes impossible — to change their minds.

Unquestionably, however, a college education is becoming more and more essential. According to 2011 statistics by the U.S. Government’s Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Current Population Survey, the median earnings for those holding a bachelor’s degree or greater ranges from $1,038 to $1,550 per week, whereas for those a degree, the range is $444 to $767.* Furthermore, jobs requiring college degrees are growing at a faster pace, and while there will always be jobs requiring none, those jobs are slipping farther down the ladder. Already it appears — if one peruses the classifieds — that in the not-too-distant future, a graduate degree may also be required for many jobs.

Making chocolate covered bananas

Study after study confirms that education is essential for  earning potential, job growth and creation, citizenship and, perhaps most importantly, for quality of life. Few would also argue that a college education is a powerful tool for personal, community and worldwide change. But how do you convince a 17-year-old?

You start early.

Keala Mason, one of the camp's directors, and a friend give the chocolate covered bananas a thumbs up.

Cultivating the understanding that education is important is not always easy. School can be rigorous, and many primary and secondary schools currently suffer from diminished funding. Some classrooms are crowded and not every teacher has the time and resources to tailor education to meet each child’s needs, as important as that might be. Somehow, though, the seeds of education must be planted early in children.

Children who grow up in families where education is valued have a substantial head start because the seed of education’s importance is planted early and has time to germinate. As a nation, we need to create a culture where learning is a positive, where it is neither punitive nor boring, and where earning a college degree is the goal and desire of every child.

Last week on JMU’s campus, I saw some of that culture fostered — those seeds planted and heavily fertilized — in a real and tangible way when some 27 elementary-school-aged youngsters spent a week at Camp UREC, a weeklong day camp on JMU’s campus. The camp is sponsored by University Recreation and is one of many JMU camps offered during the summer.

Directors Keala Mason (’10), a graduate assistant, and Chris Jones (’03M), coordinator of sport clubs and youth programs, led the group through a week of wonderful activities. Here’s a partial list: scaling UREC’s climbing wall; playing SNAG golf, soccer, dodgeball; making pet

Campers painted a giant boulder on campus.

rocks, wind flowers and painting huge boulders; visiting a butterfly farm; riding a carousel; swimming; making chocolate covered bananas with the JMU chef…..remember that’s a partial list.

In the midst of all the fun, a seed was planted that will likely someday sprout. These campers’ experience was a positive, fun, exhausting and inspiring look at a college campus from the inside — from the fun side. No child who attended Camp UREC could have come away without being excited about someday going to college. And someday, one of them is likely to write a college application essay about butterflies, cooking with JMU’s chef or climbing a two-story wall.

To see Camp UREC in action, visit Keala’s slide show at:

Camp UREC has multiple week-long sessions which run throughout the summer.  Some still have openings.  For more information, visit:

Take a look at Keala’s newsletter all about last week’s Camp UREC:

Many thanks to Keala Mason for sharing her photos of Camp UREC.

*For more information on salaries by degrees, visit:


About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

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