Students from low-income families are several times more likely to earn a college degree if they attend private secondary schools. But academic requirements for such schools are often so rigorous that only the brightest among the poor students are likely to be admitted.
Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez has launched a new initiative that attempts to make private high school admission achievable to the second tier of low-income students who have the potential to succeed in a private environment but whose grades average in the B and C range.
The program, administered by the mayor's privately funded Hartford Youth Scholars Foundation, is modeled after The Steppingstone Academy of Boston. The academy has successfully prepared motivated urban schoolchildren for acceptance and achievement at top independent schools since 1990.
Those who complete the mayor's program will have access to nearly $12 million in scholarship funds that 17 Hartford-area private schools pledged to city public school students last year.
As one might expect, there is a string attached: The program is intensive, time-consuming and it lasts 14 months. The 30 to 40 seventh-grade students who are accepted will have to commit to attending full-time classes in the summer to prepare for the Secondary School Admissions Test, which is given during the fall and winter months.
These eighth-grade scholars will have to attend additional preparation classes three times a week after school and for half a day on Saturdays - even after the students have been accepted to a private school. Then it's another six- to eight-week hitch during the summer months.
To be considered for the program, student candidates are nominated by teachers and guidance counselors, but that shouldn't discourage individuals who feel they belong there from approaching the foundation directly.
Helping a handful of promising students who might otherwise miss out on a college education is a worthy mission. City officials, however, should not lose sight of the hundreds of students each year who either drop out or don't attend college because they have fallen back so far academically that they would never be considered for the mayor's program.
That's the real challenge.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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