December 9, 2006
Column By STAN SIMPSON, Courant Staff Writer
Gregory Davis was considered a pretty bright kid when he transferred from Weaver High School in Hartford to the private Loomis Chaffee School in 1980. But after classes started, he had his doubts.
"It really forced me to buckle down and study harder," said Davis, now 43. . "I thought I was a top student, but when I got there, I was struggling to keep up. It forced me to hit the books much harder."
Participation in an Upward Bound college-preparatory program prepared Davis, who grew up in North Hartford, to attend Loomis. Loomis got him ready for Tufts University. And Tufts was a precursor to Georgetown, where Davis, now a corporate lawyer in the city, earned his law degree.
Davis said Upward Bound's summer enrichment experience at the University of Connecticut was just as enlightening as the private school exposure. "It took a lot of kids from an inner-city environment and put them on a college campus," he said. "For many of us, it was our first exposure to a college campus. And it made us believe this could be us."
Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez has similar notions about increasing the number of Hartford students on college campuses. Today, the mayor will announce a new 14-month academic enrichment program. It differs from Upward Bound, which readies high school kids for college, in that it is meant to prepare 30 to 40 Hartford middle school students for entry into private secondary schools. The students also will get preparatory training for private school admissions tests. So far, more than 200 student nominations have been received for this program sponsored by Perez's new Hartford Youth Scholars Foundation, the Boston-based Stepping Stone Academy and some of the state's top private schools. But not everyone is enamored of the idea.
"It's like putting a Band-Aid on a cancer," said Corey Brinson, 26, a lawyer with Day, Berry & Howard and a Hartford Public High and UConn alum. "When we drain the school of some of the more talented kids, I think we do a disservice to the school system."
Tim Goodwin, the Hartford Youth Scholars Foundation's executive director, said the program is trying to identify financially strapped families whose children would be first-generation college students and have exhibited academic aptitude.
Brinson and Davis are examples of how more than anything else, students' willingness to apply themselves - whether in a public or private setting - is step one to enhancing their educations. Davis raised his expectations at Loomis. Brinson overcame the distractions at "The Pub."
Stepping Stone Academy has placed hundreds of urban students in private schools over the past 16 years. It has put up $425,000 to help finance the program. The private schools - Loomis, Avon Old Farms, Miss Porter's School and the like - have pledged close to $12 million in scholarships.
"One of the things that changes a student's life is education," said Goodwin. "It builds their confidence, creates self-esteem and puts them in a situation to make better choices and provides them more options for success."
Hartford desperately needs choices for its 24,000 public school students. If that means a science and math magnet school, a military academy, a performance arts school, plus summer college-prep and private-school partnerships, then let's roll with it.
Want to increase the number of city students graduating from colleges? Beef up the resources for the Upward Bounds and Stepping Stone Academy-like programs.
As the mayor likes to say, they have "high batting averages" in sending urban kids to college.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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