CARL JUNCTION, Mo. —
Sammie King, a Carl Junction third-grader, had a little case of the jitters when she arrived for the first day of school on Thursday.
A high-five from Missouri Southern State University’s Lion mascot helped ease her nerves.
“I feel a little better now,” Sammie said before heading down the hallway to meet her teacher.
She was focused on getting through the first day of the new year. But if Intermediate School Principal Gretchen DeMasters’ new plan works, Sammie one day also will want to attend college.
While participating in the Model Schools Conference in Florida this summer, DeMasters and other administrators were inspired by a Kentucky school to begin a program to steer their students toward a post-high school education.
They’re calling the effort Bulldog University.
Just inside the front door of the school that houses most of the elementary grades, a large, collegiate-themed bulletin board welcomes students and asks, “Where will your future take you?”
The board is covered with colorful pennants from MSSU, Crowder College and Pittsburg (Kan.) State University, posters from the University of Kansas, and a T-shirt from Crowder College. It is designed, DeMasters said, to show students that they have options in life that perhaps they have never considered.
“We’re going to have constant talks this year about graduating from high school, going on to college,” DeMasters said. “And some teachers are decorating with the graduation theme.”
DeMasters also is working with Lori Meade, the second- and third-grade principal, to arrange future field trips to area college campuses.
“We want them to see what a college campus looks like, to start thinking about what it could be like to attend,” DeMasters said. “We want them to begin setting goals, to work hard to get somewhere.”
The goal of the administrators is that by the time students finish sixth grade, they will have been on five college visits and will have a cursory understanding of what attending a college would enable them to do.
“We have some kids who have never stepped foot on a college campus, and if we don’t take them, they may never,” DeMasters said. “We want them to see what options are out there.”
Carl Junction High School reached a milestone in enrollment this year with 1,000 students, officials said. The figure has grown by 700 students in the past 15 years. The school district’s enrollment, which stood at 3,350 on Thursday, is up 104 students from last year’s figure. Administrators also saw a particularly big jump in the third-grade class, which at 295 students is the largest class in the district.
ALSO WELCOMING STUDENTS back to school Thursday morning with high-fives was the Carl Junction High School Bulldog mascot. Pittsburg State University’s mascot, Gus the Gorilla, was invited and reported that he wanted to attend, but he had to move his belongings to campus instead.