COLUMBIA — There was silence among the 12 students until 6-year-old Jordan Reeves asked the question that was on nearly everyone's mind.
"Can we eat them?" Jordan asked of the cupcakes they were preparing to decorate Tuesday afternoon at Russell Boulevard Elementary School.
Soon several other students were shouting, echoing Jordan's request.
By the end of the cupcake decorating class, each kid's tongue was a mixture of colors from the Laffy Taffy they ate and the frosting they licked off their fingers.
This class was part of the third annual Russell University fundraiser for the school's PTA. Members from the community volunteer their time for the weeklong after-school program, during which elementary students sign up for "college style" courses.
"Learning isn't about school but the way you live," said Anne Schoelz, media specialist at Russell and teacher of the Google Tools class.
Classes are scheduled like typical college classes, with an hour blocked out from 4 to 5 p.m. Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday.
"College style" can mean the way the classes are formatted as well as the courses offered, said Rebecca Jones, Russell University coordinator. There were more traditional classes than cupcake decorating the kids could choose from.
Students chose to participate in activities such as cooking, arts, sports, newspaper reporting, computer tools and more for their "college" experience.
"The kids get to experience really cool ideas," said Allison Haug, a volunteer for the program. "They get to partake in these things at a kid-friendly level. For example, the cupcake craze going on right now; now the kids can experience it."
Each student pays $8 to participate in Russell University. Some of the money goes to supplies for the activities and the rest goes to the PTA.
"While it's a fundraiser, it benefits everyone," Jones said. "Businesses get to promote themselves and students get to learn while PTA fundraises. It's a triple win."
This year, 200 kids registered for more than 20 different courses at Russell University. Each class usually enrolls fewer than 15 students, according to a news release about the program. Last year, $1,800 was raised for the PTA.
Russell is currently the only school in the Columbia Public School district to host a fundraiser with "college style" classes, though Jones said she would love to see it expand to other schools in the future.