STOCKTON — Taylor Leadership Academy fourth-grade teacher Allison Silva reminded her classroom Wednesday morning that lesson plans for the day were strictly “business as usual.”
Breaking down the meaning of certain vocabulary words from a reading passage is hard enough to concentrate on, especially when the conversation among her 32 students was the anticipation of a field trip of a lifetime.
At the crack of dawn today, Silva and eight adult chaperones will accompany her pupils to South Bend, Indiana, as the class will get a full extensive tour of the University of Notre Dame.
Not only will they see their adopted college with their own eyes, they will also cheer on the Fighting Irish at a football game against Duke on Saturday.
Ten-year-old Albert Villarra said with a big grin his excitement levels “are at a thousand.”
Known as the “Class of 2029,” Silva’s class adopted Notre Dame to emphasize college readiness and awareness.
Every class at Taylor Leadership Academy in southwest Stockton does the same, and the idea of the program is simply to plant the seed in primary grades that all the students, where many live in public-housing, should consider themselves college material.
Silva took the idea of adopting a college to a whole new level: Flags and posters of Notre Dame and its campus hang from the wall. The class white-board calendar includes the football schedule. Name tags, pencils, even the floor mat, are decked out in blue and gold.
To get the class’ attention, Silva yells out “Fighting!” to which her pupils respond “Irish!”
The commitment and firm belief that they are indeed future Notre Dame students has caught the eye of the Notre Dame community and alumni.
It first started last year when a film production company hired by the university’s athletic department profiled Silva in a documentary called “Dear Ms. Silva,” as part of the department’s “First Time Fans” series.
In November, an anonymous donor paid for the entire class to watch the Fighting Irish football team play on the road at Stanford, complete with a charter bus to Palo Alto and a tailgating party.
In a meeting of regional Notre Dame Alumni Association presidents this spring, the idea to bring the students to the campus was hatched.
Don Smail, president of the San Joaquin County alumni chapter, told The Record that 40 tickets for the football game were secured and paid for by the university.
Soon after, Delta Airlines announced it would provide airfare.
For housing, another alumnus and a friend of Smail's opened his home to the students, with a pizza party included.
Chad Schaffler, director and producer for the documentary, returned to Silva’s class on Wednesday to document the class’s trip for another "First Time Fans" film, and will film that 4 a.m. flight from Sacramento to St. Paul, Minnesota, then Chicago, and then a bus ride to South Bend, before returning home to Stockton on Sunday.
“The alumni in general have really gravitated towards (Silva) and her class,” said Schaffler. “It’s awesome.”
The students, who dreamed of seeing the Golden Dome and the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in person, will take an extensive tour of the campus on Friday. They will even meet university president Father John Jenkins.
That’s not all: Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, subject of the 1993 biographical sports film “Rudy,” wants to meet with the kids. And before kickoff at Saturday’s game, the kids will be on the field to welcome the players.
For many of Silva’s students, it will be a first airplane ride. There are plenty of nerves, but as Laisjon Gorman simply put it, he’s not nervous anymore, because he’s going to Notre Dame.
“Because it’s my college,” he said.
— Contact reporter Nicholas Filipas at (209) 546-8257 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on recordnet.com/filipasblog or on Twitter @nicholasfilipas.