At the beginning of the school year, Aikin Elementary fourth-grader Aaron Mickles didn’t even think about college.

“I was thinking of getting through this grade,” he says.

Even though Richland Community College is a block away from his school, Mickles and many of his classmates thought of it only as a good place to ride bikes and skate boards.

It never occurred to them college could be their future.

But all that changed this semester. Mickles and some of his classmates started participating in College Bound, a cooperative program between Aikin and Richland that exposes fourth-grade students to college.

Mickles now sees Richland as a source of learning and a place he may attend one day.

Every Friday, 40 Aikin students go to Richland for planned activities. They have been on campus tours, seen a laser light show, worked on the college’s computers and talked to Richland administrators, professors and students.

“One of our goals is to give our kids lots of opportunities to receive attention from adults,” says Joyce Bowman, principal of Aikin.

“What we’re trying to do in this activity is give them an opportunity to learn and to give them a base that their education can go beyond junior high and high school.”

When Bowman became principal of Aikin last year, she knew she faced a tough job because 75 percent of her student body lives in apartment complexes.

Many of the students are highly mobile and often are not exposed to extracurricular activities, Bowman says. She wanted to change that. She thought Richland, since it was so close, would be an excellent resource for her students.

She made a proposal to the college to start a working relationship. Richland’s staff came up with the idea for College Bound. The program is no cost to Aikin, and the Richland staff plans all activities.

The goal for this semester is for the students to design and write a newsletter by utilizing Richland resources.

“Children learn best with first-hand experiences,” Bowman says. “Some of our children have had limited experiences; that’s why we enjoy taking them on field trips.”

This is the first semester for the program. When the semester ends, Bowman says they will evaluate the program and hopefully continue it next year.

“We’re creating a focus for the students’ future,” Bowman says. “They need to see themselves as college students.”