ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WTSP) – For dozens of elementary school students, a one-day trip to visit colleges in Tallahassee was the journey that could shatter stereotypes about what it means to be a young black boy from south St. Pete.

“I wanted to take these African American young men to college early enough, so they can begin to shape their decision-making in elementary and going into middle and high school,” said Rod Cunningham of the Urban League.

Well before dawn broke on Wednesday, about 40 students rolled out of their beds and into the parking lot of the Walmart on 34th St. South, where a coach bus waited to take them up to Tallahassee to see Florida State University, Florida A&M University, as well as the state capitol.

While a trip from one Florida city to another might seem small, Cunningham says it can do wonders for changing students’ perspective on education.

“It helps me stay on track with my academics and my behavior, so I won’t go down the wrong path,” said Zy’Kerion Smith, who attended the trip last year. “Going to college is important because you’ll have a better opportunity to get a good, high-paying job, and you can live the life that you want to live.”

Students who attended the trip are from the five elementary schools the Tampa Bay Times highlighted in its Pulitzer Prize-winning “Failure Factory” series. Research showed how district policies played a role in making the schools some of the worst in the state.

Cunningham says this was the catalyst behind this effort to expose young, African American boys to college at a young age.

“We have to invest in our youth programs so that our young people can feel included and feel the love of the community, so they can go on and be successful,” said Cunningham.

Emerald Morrow is a reporter with 10News WTSP. Like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. You can also email her at emorrow@wtsp.com.

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