College life comes a little early for 3 Strawberry Park Elementary grads |

College life comes a little early for 3 Strawberry Park Elementary grads

Incoming sixth-graders Lauren Hilley, Jenna Smith and Finn Russell are set to head to Denver at the end of the month to take part in the National Youth Leadership Forum, where they will study professions in medicine, crime scene investigation and engineering.
Ben Ingersoll

— Three Steamboat Springs students are getting a head start on college — a big head start — later this month.

Sure, Jenna Smith, Lauren Hilley and Finn Russell aren’t even official middle-schoolers yet, but the recent Strawberry Park Elementary School graduates have big-time dreams of becoming doctors, crime scene investigators and engineers.

Five Strawberry Park students were nominated at the tail end of the school year to participate in the National Youth Leadership Forum held in five cities across the United States, including Denver from Saturday through July 3.

Nominations for the six-day camp are made at schools across the country — and the world, in some cases — and are based on academic achievement. The idea of the yearly retreat is to get young students exposed to impacting careers early so kids begin to focus on investing in their futures in a college setting well ahead of college applications.

For Jenna, Lauren and Finn, the forum will not only be their first taste of the careers they have their eyes on, it’s also their first time ever leaving the comfort of home for a long period of time. Parents have a day at the end to sit in on end-of-the-forum presentations, but otherwise, the three are studying solo.

“I just love to learn about other people,” said Jenna, who will see the ins and outs of what it takes to be a doctor.

“I want to meet those who have similar interests that I do,” said Lauren, who will study crime scene investigation.

Finn is taking a bit of a different approach, opting for the choose-three deal, studying a little bit of each of the professions offered.

And the NYLF isn’t an average camp with a lot of downtime. Sample schedules of what the students will embark upon are available on the organization’s website, and they include a 7:30 a.m. wakeup call, an hourlong meeting, two hours’ worth of career exploration activities as well as a team-builder activity, all before 1 p.m.

Days also include team challenges in the evening, when students can show off the skills the gained throughout the day in dynamic and engaging games.

And in the final sessions, for parents on hand to observe, students will be have an opportunity to present their work with a final team project. Jenna’s mom, Stephanie, said the practical experience in the three options is unmatched. Medical students get to work on real cadavers, CSI students get realistic cases to attack and engineers will draft projects similar to what professionals compile daily.

While the experience is geared toward developing for the future, it does come at a hefty price. For the day program option, in which students don’t utilize the dorms, tuition is $1,495. For the residential program that the three Strawberry Park students are participating in, tuition is nearly $2,000. And sessions fill quickly.

The other four sessions are held in Lawrenceville, New Jersey; Philadelphia; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Washington, D.C.

To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll

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