Sending third graders to Princeton

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When Alycia Zimmerman ’04′s third-grade class at P.S. 33, Chelsea Prep, in New York City began researching Princeton for a school project, she saw that her students had quite an appetite for all things orange and black, from videos and photos to facts and figures about the University. For their final presentation, titled “Princeton’s Secrets Revealed,” each student provided answers to one “mystery” that they encountered. (For example, “How do 70 miles of bookshelves fit in Firestone Library?”).

Zimmerman, in her fourth year as a New York City Teaching Fellow, said that her class is “pretty extraordinary,” and it showed in their presentation at Chelsea Prep’s College Fair in March. A field trip to Princeton, she thought, would be a great way to cap the project. Funding through her school was not available, so she tried using the Web site DonorsChoose.org to raise about $400 for group-rate train tickets on New Jersey Transit.

For a few weeks, the project drew no interest. But when Zimmerman explained the trip in a message to an alumni listserv in early April, the response was immediate. She posted her note (“Send 3rd Graders to Princeton Please”) on a Tuesday night, and when she woke up Wednesday morning, the entire project had been funded by alumni donors.

The parents of most of Zimmerman’s students did not go to college, so exposing her class to Princeton might provide some inspiration, she said. “I am hoping that for at least some of them, the experience of getting to visit a beautiful college campus now while they are young will bear fruit 10 years down the line,” she wrote in an online thank-you note to donors. “I realize that this is taking a very long view of things, but for me, if even one of my students is motivated to stay in school and work towards going to college, it’s worth it.”

The students already are intrigued by the freedoms of college life, like sleeping away from home and choosing your own classes. They also were amazed to hear that one of Zimmerman’s friends conducted research for her senior thesis in ecology and evolutionary biology by snorkeling in the Caribbean.

When the class visits campus May 10, Zimmerman plans to take her students on a modified version of the Orange Key tour. She expects Firestone to be a major attraction. “They can’t imagine a library that’s that big,” she said. “It boggles their minds.”

(Photos courtesy of Alycia Zimmerman ’04. Click here to see more pictures of her class’s Princeton research.)

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