Students laden with backpacks and notebooksº a common sight across Eastern Oregon University. Friday, however, a large group of students touring the campus came in younger and shorter than average.

The entire fifth grade of West Park Elementary – about 70 students plus teachers and chaperones – traveled by school bus to La Grande on Friday to tour the college campus as part of “I'm Going to College,” a grant-funded program from the National Education Loan Association.

Liz Marvin, College Bound coordinator for Hermiston High School, applied for the grant last fall. NELA chose Hermiston for the program, and the grant funded transportation, classroom curriculum and a drawstring backpack for each student.

Over the past few weeks, every fifth-grader in the Hermiston School District had the opportunity to visit the college, ending with Friday's visit by West Park.

“It has been amazing,” Marvin said Friday. “A huge kudos to Eastern. They've never had fifth-graders on their campus like this before, and it's been great.”

The West Park students weren't the only Hermiston natives at EOU on Friday, however.

Ashley Witham and Madison Garcia, two recent Hermiston High School graduates and current EOU freshmen, also took a break from classes to speak with the younger students, answering questions as varied as “Do you have a bedtime?” to “How is college different from high school?” or “Is college hard?”

“It's difficult, but it's not super hard. You have a lot more responsibility,” Witham told the fifth-graders. “No one's going to tell you when to go to bed or to do your homework. You have to do it yourself.”

The elementary students' interest and interaction in the trip surprised both Marvin and the teachers.

“I am so impressed with some of the questions they asked,” Marvin said. “Part of the grant was providing curriculum for the classrooms, and I think the teachers really took advantage of that. Some of the questions (the students) asked were better than the questions the high school students ask.”

In addition to a special “scavenger hunt” campus tour and lunch in the college cafeteria, the West Park group was treated to a special performance by the EOU drum line.

Marvin said the program was a success.

“NELA had said they would like to grow their program in Oregon,” Marvin said. “We will apply again.”

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