A local middle school is hoping to inspire students to go to college by taking the children to visit campuses.

La Salle Middle is a charter school off Jefferson Avenue in North St. Louis. Most of the students live in nearby, often low-economic neighborhoods. School officials say 96 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunches. Many will be the first in their families to attend college.

“Students in an underserved community may not have as many opportunities to visit a college outside of a school environment,” said Phil Pusateri, Head of La Salle Middle School Operations. “The goal is for students to imagine themselves on a college campus.”

Every year, for a full week, the students visit several colleges. Seventh and eighth graders travel as far as Chicago and Tennessee to visit schools. Fifth and sixth graders stay closer to home, visiting schools in Missouri and parts of Illinois.

Pusateri said the goal is to inspire the students, and get them thinking about the future.

“To think about where they want to be when they grow up… think about where they want to be in 10 years, or 8 years,” he said. “That’s the fire that we want to help get started through these trips. Envision a future for yourself in a post-secondary environment.”

In late March, a group of sixth graders toured Maryville University in St. Louis County. College students led the visit, which included tours of the class buildings, residence halls, library and work-out facilities.

“I think this is a great college to go to,” said 12-year-old Jamer Garth as he walked through campus. Garth said he has an older cousin already in college, and his mother has encouraged him to go, too.

“She really wants me to go, because she wants me to get an education and grow up to be something good,” he said.

While on campus, the sixth graders got to meet with La Salle graduates now attending Maryville University.

Myron “Robert” McGee is a senior studying graphic design. He told the students how he was the first person in his immediate family to attend college, and how he found success.

“It was kind of scary sometimes, but once I kind of got my foot in the door and people kind of helped me along the way and pushed me along the way, it got easier and easier,” McGee said.

Austin Davis is a junior at Maryville, studying communications. He also a graduated from La Salle, and remembers touring college campuses.

“It was kind of cool seeing something bigger than my middle school I went to everyday, and just thinking about, like, what are people doing? They’re working on their future and their lives.”

La Salle’s website says 98 percent of students go on to graduate high school, and 81 percent are accepted to college.