FORT KENT, Maine — In an effort to get youngsters interested in going to college, the University of Maine at Fort Kent this week sent career and college planning kits to St. John Valley elementary schools.
The kits are part of the KinderKollege program, the latest addition to the College Community Project, which aims to spur postsecondary aspirations among pre-K through second grade students in the St. John Valley.
The packages include college-saving planning materials for parents, and children’s books like “Mahalia Mouse Goes To College” by actor John Lithgow.
The KinderKollege kits also include hand puppets dressed in career uniforms, as well as lesson plans written by UMFK education students.
Scott Voisine, UMFK’s director of student affairs, said recent research suggests introducing younger children to the idea of going to college can be an effective way to increase postsecondary school ambitions.
“[College] aspirations can be an issue,” he said. “It’s about solving the problem of kids — and other people as well — seeing college as a scary place.”
The KinderKollege program, which was funded through a grant from the Davis Foundation, is a departure from previous programs, which targeted high school-age students.
Kelley Lizotte, coordinator of the College Community Project, said the purpose of the program isn’t to get nursery schoolers planning for college, but to get them thinking about life beyond high school.
“We say college, but it’s not only four-year, liberal arts schools,” she said. Trade and vocational schools are considered valid as well.
“You don’t have to necessarily get into detail about colleges,” said Rose Morin, pre-kindergarten teacher at Madawaska Elementary School.
She said the package would be most useful in her class as a primer on career choices.
In developing the program, UMFK education students who searched the Internet for books on the subject were directed back to their own program, which was an indication that the program was groundbreaking, according to Voisine.
“There’s not a lot of them to be found, to be honest,” Voisine said. “We’re pretty cutting-edge, to be starting that young.”
Another program, Middle School U, is being developed for middle school students, he said.