© February VOL. 2 NO. 5
The Posse Foundation has helped nearly 3,000 students balance academic and social needs at first-rate colleges across the nation
Quaanzale Thompson, 17, is a recipient of The Posse Foundation’s four-year, full tuition leadership scholarship. (Christine McCall photo)
Quaanzale Thompson is a loner no more. In fact, the 17-year-old Dorchester resident will be joining a posse of scholars at Denison University in Granville, Ohio in the fall. After a competitive selection and intensive interview process, The Posse Foundation selected Thompson as one of its recipients of a four-year, full tuition leadership scholarship late last year. Over the years, nearly 40 first-rate universities, including Bucknell, Bryn Mawr, Centre, Denison, Hamilton and Union, have partnered with the Foundation and have awarded more than $265 million in full tuition scholarships. The Foundation provides students excelling in public high school with an opportunity for a quality college education. The idea behind The Posse is
relatively simple and recognizes that life on upscale university campuses is all too often a culture shock for students from low-income urban neighborhoods. Posse founder Deborah Bial started the organization in 1989 after a once-promising inner-city student told her, “I never would have dropped out of college if I had my posse with me.” Under the program, students headed to the same universities are placed in posses of about 10 that begin meeting in high school. The meetings continue weekly at college, creating tight-knit groups where members can find motivation or comfort when they feel lost or frustrated. When Thompson was notified that he was nominated for The Posse Foundation Scholarship, he says his initial reaction was that there were others
who were more qualified. It took him a while, but Thompson has come to believe that he is a deserving recipient and looks forward to having the support network with him at college, especially as he moves away from the familiarity of home. “This is amazing,” he said of his opportunity to attend college tuition-free at Denison University. Things did not always look so bright for Thompson. The senior at Brook Farm Business & Service Career Academy in West Roxbury says he has come a long way. Born with a hearing loss in both ears, Thompson was given a curriculum based on federal guidelines for students with disabilities. “All throughout elementary and middle school I saw my potential,” Thompson said. “I hated being treated like I was different when I was capable of doing far more.” When he reached high school, Thompson says he requested to be taken out of the small classes as required under the Individual Education Plan and mainstreamed into general ed classes. “Since then, I’ve been fine,” he said. “The only time I really remember I have a hearing loss is when I ‘m not looking at the person speaking to me and they’re speaking low.” However, Thompson admits that he was a shy kid growing up and uses the word “loner” to describe himself when he first entered Brook Farm Academy as a freshman. During his sophomore year Thompson decided to join the track team as a way to open up and meet new people, but shortly thereafter was ready to give up because he felt he “wasn’t as good as everyone else.” The seniors were bigger, faster and stronger. “I had that feeling of being behind, not being with the rest of the group,” Thompson said. At the same time, Thompson was also struggling with his studies. He says it was only after he made a conscious effort to change his attitude that things started to turn around and got him on the right path again. Thompson developed this motto for himself: Work hard now and play later. The motto is working in his favor as he’s learned to balance a demanding class schedule — AP Calculus, AP Government, economics, financial planning and humanities — with track practice, tutoring youth and community service work. Somehow he finds a way to get it all done, even if that means waking up at the crack of dawn. Thompson says the key to his success in high school has been time management and developing “positive relationships with many different people.” He also credits his mother with instilling a good work ethic in him at a young age. “She always tried to stick in my head that if I don’t graduate high school, there’s nothing much to do.” His mother’s message has stuck with him through the years. Now, only a few months away from graduation, Thompson is excited and has big plans for his future. Though he has not selected a field of study just yet, he is thinking of majoring in biology. “It’s broad so you can pursue many different types of careers,” he said. One career option he is exploring is becoming a veterinarian. He also has aspirations to become an author and is already penning a memoir, 53 pages of which already have been completed. It took Thompson some time, but he says that he has found his voice and is now much more comfortable in his skin. For those students who consider themselves “loners” like Thompson once did or for those who are struggling in the classroom right now, Thompson urges them to let their fears go, open up and meet new people. It also helps, Thompson says, to have a posse.
The Education Resource Institute (TERI) is bracing to offer more help to students who want to further their education but have little idea of how to pay tuition In the basement of the Boston Public Library, a soft hum of conversation can be heard. Teens and adults gather inside the library’s College Planning Center to utilize The Education Resource Institute (TERI) in small groups, looking through computer databases and scholarship books. TERI is a federally funded educational opportunity
center with the goal of bridging the gap between what students can achieve in higher education and what they can afford. Spawned from the Higher-Education Act of 1965 to encourage low-income students to go to college, TERI began in 1985 and has been offered as a free walkin service by the Boston Common Library ever since. “I kind of describe it to people like we are the
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Kevin Fudge (above) is an education advisor for The Education Resource Institute (TERI). Natasha Wilson, 17, of Marblehead High School listens attentively as Fudge shares a story about his alma mater. (Shelly Runyon photos)
emergency room and doctor’s office,” TERI Education Advisor Kevin Fudge said, “Come in and tell us where it hurts.” Fudge further describes TERI as a “one-stop shop” that provides parents and students with information on most post-high school options from securing their GED, to what to do after high school, how to get into college and how to pay for it all. The bulk of what they do happens now, between January and May. Fudge said that most people seek assistance in filling out the complex Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Last year, more than 3,000 people came through TERI, and this year they expect as many as 4,000 people. The majority of visitors are high school juniors and seniors. Fudge explained that younger visitors usually come in student groups with schools. Last year, for instance, South Shore Charter School visited the center and brought their entire ninth through 12th grade population. Some know exactly how they need assistance, and some have no idea. If a student comes in hoping to attend college but they don’t have the grades or SAT scores, they will guide them through the creation of an education plan. Fudge says that he draws a figurative map for the students, and helping them navigate their options by “(explaining) the landscape and saying ‘if you’re here, here’s how you get to the various places you may want to go.’” The TERI education advisors work as a team to help high school grads and other community members develop a plan for whatever they want to do. Each time someone new visits the center, they open a file on them to help track their progress and make sure that the visitor can begin again right where they left off. The center will also contact students over the summer to check-in and even advocate for them with colleges, leveraging the advisors’ connections and experiences. Fudge offers up his own collegiate experience when telling students what to expect out of their college experience. He said that he got into the University of Virginia by “winging it” but was initially behind the curve when it came to planning for his academic success. “I was in danger of being on academic probation because I didn’t take school seriously,” he said. “I didn’t understand how to be a good student, and the skills that I should have learned in high school, I didn’t. … When I talk to students I don’t just tell the facts; [I] tell them why it’s important to go to school — I say learn from me, don’t do what I did.” He said, “The main things to get out of school are people skills, time management skills and organizational skills.” He offers this little bit of advice. “Seek out assistance, shatter the myth that you will just be a number; you have to be your own advocate.”
BEYOND INTEGRATION Founded during the turbulent Sixties, METCO has become one of the state’s most enduring symbols of educational success Its official name is the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity and it has been one of Massachusetts’ most durable education programs. Started in 1966, METCO overcame initial reluctance and modern-day budget cuts to afford inner city students a chance to receive a high school education at some of the state’s most well-heeled suburban schools. Those schools were considered “racially imbalanced” at the time, and the thought was that METCO students would provide a temporary solution until state-wide diversity goals were met. Three years, most agreed, would be enough time. Nearly 45 years later, METCO is still up and running and producing college-bound students. In a recent study by the Harvard Project on School Desegregation, METCO was praised for its focus on improving education for thousands of students, many of whom would have been forced to attend inner city public schools unable to afford the resources that its suburban neighbors could provide with its higher tax base. “What was so surprising to us was the extraordinarily high level of parent satisfaction with the education their children were receiving,” said Gary Orfield, professor of education and social policy at the Kennedy School and the Graduate School of Education, and the project’s director. “While parents certainly had plenty of suggestions for im-
METCO’s Jean McGuire ha s been the executive director since 197 3 and believes the education program has bee n “a win-win.” (Ernesto Arroyo photo)
proving the program, they were offered not from a cynical or critical perspective, but from a foundation of improving a positive experience.” The study found that parents enrolled their children in METCO for academic reasons, with 70 percent saying it was the most important factor in choosing the program.
When asked what they would do without METCO, only 25 percent said they would enroll their children in a local Boston school, and another 25 percent said they would seek a magnet or exam school. While the remaining half said they had other plans, 20 percent of the METCO parents said they would probably or definitely leave Boston if METCO were not available, and only 50 percent said they would keep their family in the city. It’s been a long road. On Sept. 7, 1966, 220 Boston students were bused to seven different school districts — Arlington, Braintree, Brookline, Lexington, Lincoln, Newton and Wellesley. Since then, the number of METCO communities has increased to 32, with more than 2,880 Boston families and 100,000 suburban families participating in the program. By its 40th anniversary, approximately 9,500 METCO students have graduated and most have moved on to seek advanced degrees and pursue professional careers. Jean M. McGuire has directed METCO since 1973 and has witnessed the program at its best and worst. She grew up in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., during the 1930s and ’40s, an era when schools were separate and unequal. At the time, she dreamed of becoming a pilot, like her Tuskegee Airman cousin, or a doctor. “We all have the ability to do something good,” McGuire told the Banner in a recent interview. “We just need the proper resources to help make our goals and abilities possible.” As it is now, METCO has a waiting list of more than 12,000 students. The reason is clear. According to recent state Department of Education statistics, every METCO senior has passed the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test requirements in the last five years, and 87 percent of METCO graduates go on to college, 10 percent higher than the state average college attendance rate. But budget cuts have become a modern day reality — even with Gov. Deval Patrick, an ardent supporter of education. According to statistics provided by METCO, in fiscal year 2008, participating suburban schools received $4,012 per METCO student in education funding, plus a transportation allotment to offset the cost of busing students. After $2.2 million in budget cuts, the allocation was reduced to $3,681 per METCO student for fiscal year 2009. By contrast, the statewide average per-pupil funding amount in Massachusetts’ “foundation budget” — the definition of an adequate spending level for a school district, calculated by the state — was $9,332 for fiscal year 2009, according to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. For their part, the METCO Advisory Committee recommended per-pupil spending of $5,000 plus transportation. But McGuire has withstood potential budget cuts before — and remains steadfast. METCO, she explains, has been a “win-win.”
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A pleasant aspect of being young is the fun and games and little serious responsibility. That mode changes in high school, when education becomes more intense. Then some students view education as a penalty imposed by society on the young until the age of 16.
FIRST JOB IS SCHOOL
Many students do not see it this way, but doing well in school is actually their first job. Like any other job, they are expected to go every day and complete assigned homework. If you think of it, that is what your parents have to do to earn the pay to support the family.
THE PAY-OFF IS
After four years of hard work in high school, students will find that they have not yet learned enough to launch their careers. Post-graduate education is necessary, but it is no longer free. Students who worked hard and earned top grades will qualify for scholarships. Others will have to pay their way. The award of a scholarship is the pay day.
According to the U.S. Census, an individual’s income will be higher the more education that he or she has. In March 2008, a man with no high school diploma would average $32,379. A woman would earn $10,000 less. But with an associate’s degree, the average income would be $52,322 for a man and $41,097 for a woman. With a bachelor’s degree or more, income jumps to $88,641 for men.
YOUTH IS A
TIME TO LEARN
All incomes are less for the young. The average income for all high school drop-outs 18-24 years old was only $20,054. That is not enough to support a family. At each education level the income is less for the young as they master skills and acquire experience. The fact is that education continues for those who are ambitious.
S A N O I T A C U D E E “SE ” . Y T I N U T R O P P O AN