Eighth-graders meet college reps at Greater Norristown PAL Center
    A Widener University counselor talks with eighth-graders during fourth annual Regional College Fair at the Greater Norristown PAL Center Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. Photo by Gene Walsh/Times Herald Staff

    By BrendanWills, The Times Herald

    Posted:02/20/14, 11:09 AM EST|

    NORRISTOWN —More than 500 middle school students from the Norristown Area School District jump-started their college careers Thursday at the Greater Norristown Police Athletic League’s fourth annual Regional College Fair.

    In a partnership with Montgomery County Community College (MCCC) and the Pennsylvania Association for College Admissions Counseling (PACAC), GNPAL arranged for the students to meet with representatives from more then 30 colleges and institutions.

    The students from East Norriton Middle School, Stewart Middle School and Eisenhower Science and Technology Leadership Academy were bused to the fair in four different waves throughout the day.

    Students were given bingo cards with the names of colleges making up the different squares. To participate in the bingo game with a chance to be entered into a raffle drawing, students had to talk with representatives from 10 different colleges.

    Winners of the raffle would receive items from the colleges’ school stores, including T-shirts, mugs and water bottles, said to Carolyn White, assistant director of admissions at Montgomery County Community College and a member of the GNPAL Education Committee.

    The college fair was born through a perfect blending of community groups interested in the future of Norristown’s children, White said. The education committee wanted to offer a way to reach out to eighth-grade students before they reach high school, she said.

    White suggested to fellow education committee member Brett Wells and Maggie Hall that they should partner with PACAC, which she had previously worked with through MCCC.

    “We wanted to give them a better understanding of what colleges are interested in,” White said. “We want them to know to take four years of math in high school even if the school only requires three. Or that they should have a balance with extracurricular activities. We want them to know to not join 50 clubs, but join a few meaningful clubs where they can move into leadership positions.”

    Wells said starting students on the college path is vital to piquing their interest in learning.

    “It’s a day out of the classroom that lets them see the bigger path. If you start earlier, they get a better feel for that path,” Wells said.

    Lydia Hoag, eighth-grade math teacher at East Norriton Middle School, testified to the importance of guiding students early.

    “It helps to guide students that know what majors already interest them,” Hoag said. “I had one student who said she was interested in nursing, so I helped her find the schools I know have good nursing programs.”

    For Hoag, the benefits of the day go beyond college preparation.

    “Some students are nervous about talking to adults. This helps them build their confidence,”Hoag said.

    To prepare students for their interviews with college representatives, on the back of the bingo cards there was a list of 30 questions that high school students should ask. The questions provided a starting point for conversation, but students were also encouraged to ask any questions that came to mind.

    As spring gets closer, eighth-graders will be choosing classes for high school.

    “The students will be picking classes soon,” Hoag said. “We use this day to build into that conversation. For example, that student who is interested in nursing might want to look into extra health classes. I talked to a lot of the kids, who said theyare getting excited about finding out what colleges have what programs.”

    The college fair did not end with the eighth-graders’ visit. GNPAL opened its doors to thepublic from 6 to 7:30 p.m., and middle and high school students and theirparents, college transfer students, and adults interested in pursuing a collegeeducation were encouraged to attend. There was also translator available for Spanish speaking attendees.

    A representative from the MCCC admissions office was available to give advice and information on financial aid opportunities, including how to electronically submit the free application for federal student aid (FAFSA).

    In the past, Wells said, some of the eighth-graders come back and bring their parents at night.

    “It’s really encouraging to see eighth-graders come back with their parents, to see families planning this early.”

    The following colleges sent participated in the fair:

    Arcadia University

    Bryn Athyn College

    Cabrini College

    Cairn University

    Clarion University of Pennsylvania

    DeVry University

    East Stroudsburg University of Pa.

    Eastern University

    Edinboro University of Pennsylvania

    Empire Education Group

    Gwynedd-Mercy College

    Holy Family University

    Immaculata University

    Keystone College

    La Salle University

    Lackawanna College

    Lebanon Valley College

    Long Island University

    Lycoming College

    Manor College

    Millersville University

    Montgomery County Community College

    Moravian College

    Point Park University

    Pulse Beauty Academy, A Paul Mitchell Partner School

    Rosemont College

    Shippensburg University

    Temple University

    Villanova University

    Widener University

    Wilkes University

    Wilmington University

    Wilson College


    Following the College Fair, Margaret (Maggie) Hall, a GNPAL representative and College Fair coordinator provided links to the Times Herald article and College Fair photo gallery. She also thanked several individuals for helping make the College Fair such a success.

    Link to theTimes Herald Article:


    Additional photos of the 8th grade students talking to the college reps can be seen at http://media.timesherald.com/2014/02/20/photos-4th-annual-norristown-college-fair-held-for-8th-graders/#1.

    She said:

    A big thanks to Carolyn White, Assistant Director of Admissions at Montgomery County Community College and a member of the GNPAL Education Committee, for her work in making this event possible.  Without her, the college fair would not happen and her efforts in reaching out to the 8th graders and Norristown Area High School students before the college fair are invaluable. 

    Thank you also to the GNPAL staff and the other members of the Education Committee who are responsible for preparing the building for the event, taking care of all the “day of” details and doing whatever needs to be done to make the events uccessful. 

    We are very grateful to Dr. Mash for her continuing support by providing lunch for the college representatives over the four years we have had the college fair. 

    Also, thank you to Vivian Schorle of Communities That Care, who is also on our Education Committee, for helping out as a Spanish translator for the evening.

    We are very appreciative of our partnership with the Norristown Area School District. This college fair is unique in that it brings the 8th graders induring the day to meet with the college representatives, which would not be possible without NASD support. 

    In particular, thank you to Debbie Chagin, Norristown Area School District Chief Academic Officer and a member of the GNPAL Education Committee, for her efforts to encourage parents and students to attend the college fair, arranging for the buses, getting the permission slips sent home, and providing contact information at the high school and middle schools for Carolyn.  Thank you to her and everyone at the various schools who assisted us in getting the word out to the students and their families.

    Last, but certainly not least, thank you to the college representatives who attend our college fair, especially for the time they take in talking to the 8th grade students.  We hope that this will help the students to focus on their future as they prepare to start their high school careers.

    In speaking with parents during the evening session, they are very pleased with the opportunity to talk to college representatives in the intimate atmosphere our college fair provides.  Students of all ages attend the college fair, which is exactly what we encourage.  It is an event that we can all be proud to be a part of.”