An elementary school teacher noticed her students didn’t have college t-shirts to wear on Wednesdays when the district encourages kids to wear them as a way to keep them dreaming big.
Margaret Olivarez, a third-grade teacher at Copperfield Elementary School, said for a lot of families there, $15-plus shirts with college logos just aren’t a priority, especially with multiple kids to buy for.
She wanted to change that, “so I said, ‘Well, let me see if I can reach out to some of the universities.'”
She started with Texas schools at the beginning of the school year, then widened her search to the rest of the country, asking if colleges and universities had a few extra t-shirts lying around they could donate.
“It started off small,” she said. “It was supposed to be just my classroom.”
The response was overwhelming. The U.S. Air Force Academy sent 400 shirts; Dartmouth custom-ordered kids’ sizes to send along. Schools from all over shipped t-shirts, from Texas State University, to Notre Dame, to Yale, to Northern Michigan University.
In all, 28 colleges and universities contributed, and Olivarez was able to give one to every student in school, with boxes to spare for next year.
“Some of them can even tell you something about the university, and they’ll even tell you, ‘That’s where I want to go,'” Olivarez said.
Wednesday, the last college t-shirt day before winter break, students gathered in the library to build plastic tunnels and towers to ferry metal balls from one end to the other.
Sporting her Yale shirt, a third-grader names Jaire said she picked it out of the pile “because of the bulldog,” which replaces the “A” in the white lettering.
“She also told me that it was an Ivy League school,” Jaire said, “so I thought, I have good grades, I could probably go to that school.”
That’s the kind of response Olivarez and the district as a whole want to elicit.
All three of Cynthia Cuartas’ kids — a first-grader, a third-grader, and a fourth-grader — go to Copperfield, and all three of them got t-shirts through donations.
“It just started a dialogue that we didn’t have in our house before,” she said. “Like my oldest, she got an Ivy League shirt, and so I’m telling my husband, ‘Let’s start saving now!'”
When to start talking to and preparing kids for college is an ongoing debate among parents, but Cuartas doesn’t see it as putting extra stress on her children to start thinking long-term about what they want.
“Obviously, as a parent, all that we want for our kids is for them to have a better and brighter future than what we had,” she said. “It definitely opened up their mind also of, like, how big they can dream.”
Olivarez has seen it, too. She believes if just a couple students get to college, or to a university they might not have considered, because of the spark she’s trying to foster, she’s done her job.
“They can have that dream as they get to middle school, as they get to high school,” she said. “You know, ‘Someone told me that I can do this.’ Yes you can.”