Tyrelle Johnson is only 10 years old, but his grandmother Theresa Thompson packed up his little suitcase this weekend and sent him off to college.
She wasn't too worried about him, though. His elementary school principal went with him - and he'll be back next week.
Tyrelle and nine other children from Brehms Lane Elementary School started today as very pre-undergraduates at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, in a weeklong program to introduce the ambitious fourth- and fifth-graders to college life.
Bowdoin Bound - a partnership between the small liberal arts college and the city elementary school - is new this year, a pilot effort that officials from both schools hope will have long-lasting effects.
"I think it's critically important that our students understand that the work they do today in third, fourth and fifth grade will influence the options they have when they're 16, 17 and 18," said Brehms Lane Principal Edward Cozzolino, who flew with them to Maine yesterday. He also made sure to increase the available minutes on his cellular phone plan so that nervous parents could call as many times a day as they like.
The pupils had to apply for the program almost as if they were applying to enroll in college. A committee looked at their grades, considered recommendations from teachers and judged essays they submitted.
Erby Mitchell, Bowdoin's assistant dean of admissions and director of multicultural recruitment, said the selected pupils show promise and later will be paired with local Bowdoin alumni to help monitor their progress in school and mentor them as they get older.
"We're trying to encourage these kids to look outside of Baltimore to go to college," Mitchell said. "But it's not just about Bowdoin. If these kids seven or eight years from now decide they don't want to come to Maine to go to college, that's fine. But I'd like to look back and see that they are doing well, that they're in college, and they've been nurtured."
Tyrelle, a fourth-grader, wants to be a basketball player ultimately but said, "If that doesn't work out, then I'll be a surgeon."
The outreach program will offer him learning experiences in both areas. In addition to games, crafts and sports, the program will require him and his schoolmates to do math, writing and an hour's worth of reading every night.
"I'm excited about this trip to Maine because it's really going to show me what I'm really going to be up against when I go to college," said Chrissandra Shedrick, 11, a fifth-grader who wants to be a veterinarian. "And it's going to let me know that I don't have time to be fooling around. I have to get my life together."
Bowdoin Bound is the brainchild of Baltimore resident Dan Spears, a Bowdoin alumnus and member of BASIC, the college's volunteer association that assists in identifying and interviewing prospective students.
BASIC members in the Baltimore area donated money for airfare, and a Bowdoin day camp director donated the cost of tuition - about $600 per child, Mitchell said.
Opportunities are available for possible scholarships later, when the Brehms Lane children are really ready for college - a bonus that makes Tyrelle's grandmother especially glad.
"I think it's awesome because no one in the family has gone to college yet," said Thompson. "It's an opportunity we couldn't pass up."