Leena Ou, 14, is in the eighth grade, and she doesn't want to grow up.
"College is too mature for me," she said.
As a seventh-grader, Giselle Cortez, 12, is in the same place.
"At first I was nervous. I didn't think I could handle it," she said.
These students are among 35 at Morada Middle School who did not expect to start planning for their futures this year.
But thanks to a pilot program at the school, all of them have college on the brain.
Amy Whitsaman has counseled students for 12 years, mostly at high schools. She and fellow counselor Carol Adams created a pilot program called "Creating a College-going Culture."
"High school is almost too late" to start planning for college or a career, said Whitsaman.
Students pick out their first high school courses in the spring of eighth grade. Whitsaman wants her students to make choices that will give them a boost when it's time to move on after high school.
Whitsaman and Adams don't restrict students in what college should look like for them.
"When we say 'college,' it's an umbrella term. It means a four-year or two-year school, or a vocational school. We want students to plan on some kind of additional training after high school," she said.
So far, only the AVID and leadership classes have participated. Whitsaman and Adams took on one class period a week to ingrain in students the idea of college and make it real.
Like many school programs, this one starts with a test. Students are asked if they have a career or college in mind, and whether it's important to think about these big picture ideas at such a young age.
When Ryan Lobsien, 14, started eighth grade, he had no idea.
"I had no future set. I didn't know anything," he said. His plate was full from simply getting his schoolwork done and helping out his family at home. College was not on his radar.
Then the activities began.
Students logged on to www.californiarealitycheck. com and followed a guided checklist to pick out every aspect of a future lifestyle, from what they'll eat to whether or not they'll have pets. The program tallied up the cost and showed how much post-high school education they'll need to get there.
"Kids are shocked at how much school it takes to own a Lamborghini," said Whitsaman.
Whitsaman's students create "Future Folders," where they keep their visions of a future career, college and major. From writing essays to creating paper avatars and college pennants, students have multiple opportunities to articulate their new dreams.
Guest speakers from various colleges meet with classes to share their educational journeys. Each classroom adopts a college to follow throughout the year. Students practice their business letter-writing skills to ask for information about each school. The group takes field trips to University of California, Davis, San Joaquin Delta College and University of the Pacific. Posters, contests and college shirt days all keep school logos front and center.
Students say it was stressful to think so far ahead, but it was helpful to start on a plan.
"I give 100 percent, but it's not always enough. I want to be the first in my family to go to college," said Lobsien. "Instead of just getting good grades to get good grades, now I can see what it means."
At the end of the program, it's time for a photo shoot. Whitsaman collects graduation robes and mortarboards from her colleagues and lines students up to try them on. By this time, kids have picked whether they want to represent UC Davis or California State University, Stanislaus. They each pose for the camera holding their hand-drawn pennant. The final touch comes when Whitsaman lays honor cords over their shoulders.
"We want them to picture not only completing college, but excelling," she said. "They're nervous at first, but then they stand up taller."
Those portraits go in the Future Folders, too.
Taking her photo was a big moment for Cortez.
"It was emotional," she said. "I looked at myself and said, 'I can't wait to wear these.'"
Does it really work?
Whitsaman doesn't know for sure. The students will take a post-test in a month, then Whitsaman will compare those answers with the first test.
Most of the kids still don't know whether they'll study physics or communications. But her students are aware of their options.
"I'm more organized. I have more confidence," said Ou. "Instead of thinking about what other people think, now I think a little bit about my dreams."