The idea of college and adulthood can seem distant and intimidating, particularly for students with several years of schooling left before they take the next step in their academic life.
At Ardmore Middle School, however, students are getting a taste of college life early.
For the third year, sixth graders at the middle school experienced college classrooms, atmosphere and life first hand through a program at Langston University called The Lions in STEM Program. The program was a vision and dream of AMS middle school teacher Mary “The Fox” Johnson.  
“I wanted to do something different for these students to give them a better experience of what education is all about,” Johnson said. “Giving them some tangible information. Something they can hold on to.”
Three years ago, Johnson reached out to Langston University about the possibility of a program that puts middle school students in the shoes of a college student for a day. Those discussions led to the creation of the program, which sees 50 students attend classes at Langston for a day. Students attended classes in math, biology, chemistry and broadcast (radio and TV) and print at the university.
Johnson said middle school is a crucial time for students. Often times, middle school can serve as a foreshadowing for a student’s life path. Johnson said she wanted to inspire hope, drive and a taste of a potential future in her students that can be achieved by studying and with hard work.
“In my heart I just wanted them to see ‘you can go to college,’” she said. “You never know what kid who went there will get an impression on their mind that ‘you know college is not that bad.’”
The program takes the students through different courses throughout the day, with them actually sitting in on a real college class. Students get the opportunity to ask questions, listen to a college lesson and do activities current college students are doing. While talking about college early and encouraging students to begin thinking about college is effective, for Johnson there is nothing like stepping foot on a college campus and being a student for a day.
“This is the real deal,” she said. “They have the experience of being in the classroom. They don’t get that anywhere else.

“Talking about one thing and reading it is one thing, but actually being a part of it, that’s what counts.”
The students selected for the trip display discipline and show a clear want to learn, according to Johnson. While learning in a classroom environment is important, Johnson said the STEM trip allows students to learn in a different formate. Johnson said the students retain a large portion of the information they acquire during the trip and come back with an interest they may not have had otherwise. One goal of the trip is to show students a love of learning and demonstrate the different kinds of learning styles that exist.
The program is unlike anything else in the state, something Johnson said is intentional.
“I feel like if my kids at Ardmore Middle School have experience in different things they’re going to be successful,” she said. “They’re not afraid to step outside the box and that’s what we did. We stepped outside the box.”
Johnson said while the trip is a fun day for the students, she hopes the experience of being a college student for a day goes beyond the classroom for her students.
“I always want my children to be ahead of things,” Johnson said. “I’m not just preparing you for sixth grade or seventh grade. I’m preparing them for life.”