Over the next two weekends, Carolina will welcome thousands of outstanding elementary school students and their families to town as part of the Academic All-Stars program.
Early this fall, Cricket Lane, the assistant athletic director for student-athlete development, sent a letter to the principals of every elementary school in the state inviting them to nominate two outstanding students per grade as Academic All-Stars. The students received up to four tickets to either this Saturday’s game with Old Dominion or next weekend’s contest with Duke.
These students and their families won’t just be attending the game, however. Prior to kickoff, they’ll have the opportunity to take pictures with Tar Heel cheerleaders and Rameses and national championship trophies and walk through Tar Heel Town. During the game, the students will get a special video greeting from Chancellor Carol Folt and football coach Larry Fedora, and stand to be recognized by the Kenan Stadium crowd. Afterward, there will be autograph opportunities with Carolina student-athletes.
For the students, the Academic All-Stars program offers the chance to come to a football game and experience a day on a college campus. For Carolina, the program strengthens the bond between the university and North Carolina schools. “We’re the university of the people, and we are in a great position to showcase the benefits of higher education and the opportunities to come to school at a place like this,” associate athletic director Paul Pogge said. “Athletics are a popular means of engaging people, so to the extent that we can position our teams to help us fulfill our institutional position as a university of the people, we want to do that.”
“We are an academic institution, and we thought what better way of saying thank you, having exposure to students who don’t necessarily get to come to Carolina and to acknowledge all the hard work those students put into their schools?” Lane said.
As of last week, 410 elementary schools from across the state had committed to participate in the program. Between the two football games, nearly 18,000 students and their families will be recognized. The Academic All-Stars program offers the chance for elementary school students to consider the educational opportunities available to them beyond high school. “It’s showing the entire state that there’s more out there,” Lane said. “They can come here and there’s so much more than their hometowns that they can strive for. To come to a school like Carolina, or anywhere I think also gives them an awareness and an opportunity to see a little more.”
“We’re very excited about getting scholastically-motivated, high-character kids from around North Carolina on our campus and showing them that the opportunities are there to go on and pursue their dreams if they keep working hard in the classroom,” Pogge said.
Staff and faculty at the individual schools nominated their Academic All-Stars according to their own criteria. Carolina offensive lineman Jarrod James said the program gives students who are already on the right track an extra bit of motivation. “It shows that they have potential and they have the potential to do what it takes to come to this university,” he said.
A native of Goldsboro, James said he would have loved the chance to see Chapel Hill as an elementary school student. “Especially coming from a city like Goldsboro, where you might not have as strong of a sense of what else is out there outside of Wayne County, it’s great to come see the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill instead of just hearing about it, or seeing it on TV on a basketball or football game,” James said. “To actually come and set foot on it, and see what it actually is outside of sports as a university, it’s the type of stuff that starts a dream.”