SEMINOLE — Seventh-grader Michael Pichardo loved his first college visit. He and 47 other seventh- and eighth-graders from Seminole Middle School went to the St. Petersburg College-Seminole Campus on Thursday morning, taking classes and even receiving diplomas.
"My parents always tell me I need to go to college, and I agree with them," said Michael, 13. "And after being here, I really want to go because this was fun."
Seminole Middle is the second school to visit SPC-Seminole this week. Oakhurst Elementary School in Largo sent 23 fourth- and fifth-graders to the campus on Tuesday.
The campus initiative, called "the Seminole Community Educational Ecosystem," exposes students in nearby elementary, middle and high schools to the campus to stress the value of attaining a college degree.
College recruiter Henry Johnson Jr. used anecdotes and personal stories to impress on the students how important it is to stay focused on school and find a mentor.
Johnson talked about his struggles after losing his parents. It's okay to take time for yourself when bad things happen, he said, but ultimately you have to persevere.
He told the students that when he was their age, while he would frequently hang out with his friends and go to the movies, a friend of his was a much more diligent student. That friend, Johnson said, graduated from West Point.
Johnson also recalled a teen he knew who lost his way and ended up in prison for robbing a pizza-delivery guy.
"He got five years for five dollars," Johnson said, holding up his fingers on both hands for emphasis.
After the lecture, Johnson had students sign a "Commit to Complete" poster, pledging to follow through with their education.
For Michael Pichardo, the lecture was the best part of the morning. "It was a really inspiring speech," he said.
Students also went to two "classes," learning about graphic design for video games in one, and in the other, participating in a demonstration of how green screens work in television production. Then they were led on a campus tour by SPC-Seminole provost Jim Olliver.
Michael said the graphic design presentation "got my attention" because he enjoys playing video games.
A scavenger hunt was scheduled in the Natural Habitat Park on campus, but was called off because of poor weather. Instead, a professor led a discussion about the different kinds of wildlife found in the park.
Olliver said it is important for the college to take an active role in promoting education within the community. He said the college is "laser focused" on getting students through school, and that instilling a college mentality into students as early as fifth grade can be an effective way of ensuring student success in the future, particularly in those students who never considered college.
At the end of the morning, Olliver handed each student a diploma, procession-style, congratulating them on their visit to campus.
Outreach programs like College Day let parents know SPC is there as a community resource, Olliver said.
"The other part of it is it's great fun," he said.
Thus far, six more elementary schools, two more middle schools and three high schools are scheduled to send students to a College Day at SPC-Seminole.
Michael said his father did not go to college and his mother is working toward her degree online. The activities of the day resonated with him.
"It just really hit me," he said, "that I need to focus on my studies and get an education."
Josh Solomon can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4155. On Twitter @JSolomonTIMES