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‘We just really love Notre Dame’: elementary students visit campus

| Friday, September 23, 2016

Some students at Notre Dame may have been raised life-long Fighting Irish fans by alumni parents, while others may not have considered Notre Dame as an option until their senior year of high school. Nine years from now, when the members of the Class of 2029 begin their freshmen year at Notre Dame, some students may achieve their dream of attending Notre Dame that was first inspired by their elementary school.

This weekend, Allison Silva’s fourth grade class from Taylor Leadership Academy in Stockton, California, will be visiting Notre Dame as a part of their college awareness program, which seeks to help low-income students prepare for college.

Fourth graders from Taylor Leadership Academy in California visit South Quad with their teacher, Allison Silva.Michael Yu | The Observer

Fourth graders from Taylor Leadership Academy in California visit South Quad with their teacher, Allison Silva.

“I work for Stockton Unified at an A.V.I.D school, and A.V.I.D. stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination,” Silva said.  “What their platform is, is basically targeting low income areas where students will be the first generation in their family to go to college and just targeting practices that will help prepare them, get them ready and sort of close that gap of knowledge that they might not have.”

Silva’s class chose to adopt Notre Dame as a part of their college awareness program.

“Our school, Taylor Leadership Academy, took it a step further and we had each classroom adopt a college,” said Silva. “I sort of presented a bunch to my class five years ago now and they just fell in love with that leprechaun. I tried to push my own college and it just did not work, and ever since then we’ve been Notre Dame.”

The class participated in various research projects and activities to learn about the college and the opportunities it offered. It has its own Twitter account, which caught the university’s attention, and in 2015, the class was featured as a part of the First Time Fans documentary series, helping instigate its visit to Notre Dame. Angeline Johnson, clubs program director for the Notre Dame alumni association, helped organize the trip.

“There were a number of people who were involved in making that original documentary and people who viewed it that really wanted to see this dream come true for the class and bring all of them out here,” she said. “I think there were a number of people involved in that, and we were able to bring them all together and start talking about logistics and how to fund all that.”

When students first heard they would be visiting Notre Dame, many thought it was just a prank.

“We thought they were just playing but then when it was coming close, we were like ‘What? Never mind, they’re not playing’,” said Nyah Buntun, one of Silva’s students. “We all thought the same thing and Ms. Silva was trying to trick us. When we found out that we were really coming here, like some of us started crying, some of us were bursting into tears.”

“I just got excited and started jumping around,” Fernando Lopez said. “I couldn’t sleep that night.”

“I was really excited and I just really wanted to get over here quick,” Jayden Gallardo said.

Johnson said the class will be participating in a number of tours and activities during their visit. In addition to visiting sights such as the Basilica and the Dome, the students will have sideline passes during the Duke vs. Notre Dame football game and will get to meet both University President Fr. John Jenkins and football head coach Brian Kelly.

“I think I really want to see the Grotto because all the candles are really pretty,” Rose Her said.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the Golden Dome up close,” Nikki Vang said.

Many students said Notre Dame has been hospitable and helped inspire them.

“We are Notre Dame fans because they invited us to their college, they help us, they give us stuff and we write letters to them, we tweet them. We just really love Notre Dame,” Alasia Gorman said.

“Before we met Ms. Silva, before we were in her class, some of us, I think it was one person who asked what was college,” Nyah said. “The rest of us knew what college was but we were all talking about it and almost half the class said they didn’t know if they were going to go to Notre Dame.

“After Ms. Silva heard that, she started trying to get Notre Dame within our reach by dreaming, dreaming big and working hard and being a good person because she’s really introduced that to us. That’s why I think we’ve become Notre Dame fans.”

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  • Karen Thornburg

    Awesome story! We have students in schools right here in South Bend that would benefit from this support and experience. How do we create this partnership/experience in our local schools and provide this experience to students in surrounding South Bend Community?