From The Yield, Winter 2013
As witnessed through a special viewing of “The Prep School Negro” at this year’s The Enrollment Management Association Annual Meeting and a candid conversation with its director, André Robert Lee, the experience can prove bittersweet. Lee got what he called “the golden ticket” to Germantown Friends School, but he also found he lost touch with his roots – his family, his neighborhood, and his friends.
Access organizations can bridge the situation that Lee had experienced by overseeing any emotional and social issues that may arise. These overseers must also attend to any potential shift in family dynamics a student might experience.
Organizations such as The Wight Foundation, A Better Chance, Oliver Scholars, and the TEAK Fellowship work to identify children at an economic and/or geographic disadvantage who possess great potential for intellectual and character development. These programs nurture these children – doing nothing short of changing their lives and opening a world of opportunity to them. The independent schools with which the organizations work then forge the intellectual and emotional bases upon which the children can succeed.
How do access organizations find the children they inspire? How do they prepare them for the rigors of the independent school world? The TEAK Fellowship and A Better Chance offer a glimpse at the answers to these questions with profiles of three of the exceptional students, who have used these organizations as a springboard.
L. is a high-achieving Mexican-American whose leadership skills began at home as the eldest of three children. L.’s parents wanted her to attend a school where she would be safe as well as academically challenged; she was introduced to A Better Chance (ABC) through her advisors at an after-school program.
Spanish-speaking staffers in ABC’s Atlanta office assisted with translation for L.’s family as ABC walked the family through the streamlined application process, which allowed L. to complete just one application. She also attended support workshops on financial aid, interview skills, and test preparation.
L. was accepted by several schools and she chose Pace Academy (GA). Having started in 9th grade as one of the only Latinas in the school, fitting in has not been easy. However, L. joined the gymnastics and cheer teams, which has helped her become a part of the Pace community. Academically, the transition was tougher. In her initial semester, L. received the first Cs of her academic career. L. strengthened her study skills and improved her grades by drawing on techniques she had learned in a study skills workshop offered by ABC.
Pace Academy has worked hard at ensuring a positive good experience for L. and her family. To keep L.’s parents informed, teachers translate and interpret L.’s progress. L. often attends social events designed to help ABC Scholars get to know one another and ABC workshops that enhance her natural leadership and academic potential. She is a mature and driven young woman, who aspires to achieve great things.
Nominated to apply by her guidance counselor, K. came to TEAK as a 7th grader attending a public middle school in the Bronx. K. remembers the thrill of being nominated, followed by, “A BIG admission process, interviews with my mom, taking a test, and filling out a lot of papers.” Upon being admitted, K. and TEAK jumped headfirst into academic preparation. Her approach to academic challenges at TEAK demonstrated her remarkable focus, indefatigable drive, and ability to be a strong self-advocate.
Along with academic preparation, TEAK provided comprehensive support in K.’s search for the best school match. TEAK guided K. and her mother through the high school application process, which included interviews, test prep, and financial aid counseling.
What was so apparent to TEAK and to the high school admission professionals who were considering K. was that ethically, physically, and mentally, she was an exceptionally strong young woman possessing a joyous and positive outlook on life. Educators constantly remark what a gift it is to work with such a driven and bold young person.
K. was offered a spot at Episcopal High School (VA). She has thrived within the structured academic setting, and K. has pursued numerous extra-curricular and leadership opportunities on campus: athletic, cultural, and academic. K. was selected to be a senior prefect, and a spokesperson for the Architecture and Engineering Club, is a member of Spectrum (diversity club), and she excels in track and field (shot put).
Through TEAK’s High School Program, K. has a dean who stays in constant touch with her and her school advisors. K. comes back to TEAK on each school break for workshops and meetings with her class, and each summer she participates in TEAK programs ranging from community service and outdoor education projects to private sector internships and college guidance programs.
K. is headed to college next year, and she is purposefully keeping her proposed field of study wide open. About her future, K. says, “I change my mind so much, because every day I feel like the world may need me to be something else. Although I do not know what I want to be in the future, I do know that TEAK will still be a major part of my life, and I will give back to TEAK.”
A. applied to TEAK after being nominated by his guidance counselor at a public charter school in Brooklyn. He quickly recognized the opportunity that TEAK and its partner high schools could offer, and A. and his mother made a decision: to have A. transfer to a new middle school because his charter school’s schedule made it impossible for A. to get to his TEAK courses on time. A. was so committed to his future that he was willing to make this change, despite the fact that it meant he would be attending a less competitive school in a more dangerous neighborhood.
Ambition is not A.’s only attribute. He is a caring individual and good friend, with a well-developed sense of humor. In the classroom, A. stands out as a hard worker who contributes meaningful and unique ideas. Given all these strengths, it should come as no surprise that A. was able to choose from among four independent schools in Manhattan and Brooklyn. In the end, A. chose to be a part of Grace Church School’s inaugural 9th grade class, feeling that its size and mission were a good fit.
Now a sophomore, A. recently spoke at a GCS diversity day, and had the following to say about his transition:
“Throughout my life, until GCS, the workload was more than manageable, and the work itself was as easy as it gets. My closest friends were bad influences, and their closest friends were even worse. In independent school, the work difficulty is more challenging, which pushes me to do better. My closest friends aren’t bad influences; come to think of it, the class of 2016 teaches me something new every day. I don’t think people care about popularity here. I am encouraged to try new things, meet new people, and to see the world in a whole new perspective.”
Profiles such as these make The Enrollment Management Association proud to partner with a variety of access organizations through our fee waiver and benchmark testing programs, providing low- or no-cost testing for children in need. Last year, The Enrollment Management Association distributed nearly $1,000,000 in fee waivers.