YERMO Eleven-year-old Ashley Harter stepped onto a college campus for the first time during Silver Valley Unified School District's spring break last week.

The University of California, Los Angeles campus was much bigger than Harter expected, according to the Yermo School sixth-grader.

"I thought it was going to be one building," she said.

Harter, along with about 60 Silver Valley middle school students, spent the day taking in the sights and sounds of UCLA as part of the district's effort to expose students to college at an early age.

The sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders from Yermo School and Fort Irwin Middle School roamed the sprawling university campus with a student tour guide as one of 300 school groups that visited the college bookstore, ate at the food court and attended a track and field meet that day.

"They had a bit of the student experience," said Yermo School Principal Derek Pinto.

Tiffany Yearsly, 13, felt the academic energy of the university while walking on campus and seeing students participate in activities.

"A lot of new ideas get developed there," she said.

Pinto said he aimed for the campus visit to plant seeds in his students' minds and show them that middle school can prepare them for higher education.

"This is just a stepping stone," said Joe Wald, a physical education teacher who chaperoned the trip.

"It made me want to keep behaving and keep grades up," said 11-year-old Cole Trouberman.

Students were selected to attend the day trip according to their grades, behavior and attendance.

Students like Matthew Condon, 12, were already thinking about how to pay for a college education.

The group's tour guide told the students that they could receive grants as well as merit-based scholarships, said Codon.

Second grade teacher Kerri Trouberman accompanied her son, Cole, as well as the other students on the trip,

"If I want to go some place like this, I'm going to have to decide" to work to get there, said Trouberman.

Condon noticed another perk about college: The variety of eateries at the food court, ranging from Chinese take-out to hot pretzels.

"You don't have to bring a sack lunch everyday," said Condon smiling.

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(760) 256-4122 or elee@desertdispatch.com