Academic Boost for City Kids
Urban Scholars program helps youths achieve goals
MIGUEL MONTESINO says he once believed his future lay in a blue-collar job, like the one his father got after dropping out of school long ago.Skip to next paragraph
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While Miguel was at South Boston High School, his father showed him his hands: strong, yet worn. "Look at what labor does to you," he said. Miguel looked, listened. The message was clear: Stay in school.
The teenager's friends, meanwhile, were skipping classes and stealing cars. Miguel didn't like this destructive path, nor was he satisfied making $4 an hour at his summer dry-cleaner's job. So he applied himself in school, making the honor roll just months later. This fall, he will graduate from the University of Lowell (Mass.) with a degree in criminal justice. Then, he hopes, it will be on to law school, he says by telephone from Lowell. Inner-city teens targeted
But for Miguel, this would not have been possible without his school's college-preparatory, after-school and summer program, "Urban Scholars," held at the Boston Harbor campus of the University of Massachusetts (UMass). Founded in 1982, it is a nationally lauded academic program for disadvantaged, inner-city pupils at South Boston, Dorchester, and Jeremiah E. Burke High Schools, and 10 feeder middle schools.
Urban Scholars provides more than an academic focus. It also offers an emotional component just as important for a student's self-esteem. "It is a rigorous, challenging program that really does stretch the kids, but that also gives them nurturing support to make the leap to college," says Pat O'Connell Ross, director of the United States Department of Education's Jacob Javits Gifted and Talented Program.
As part of a three-year $840,000 grant from the Javits program, the Urban Scholars model was replicated last spring at San Francisco State University, the University of Central Florida, and New York's City College.
Financial aid for the Boston program comes from the Javits grant, UMass, Massachusetts Board of Regents' Ronald E. McNair Educational Opportunity Program, state grants, and corporate donations. This year five scholarships for amounts up to $1,500 were given to graduates, 75 percent of whom qualify for full college financial aid, says program director Joan Becker.
Outside Ms. Becker's UMass office, students at long tables noisily confer over math problems. Nontraditional classes are under way in rooms located across a walkway.
In one, Paulette Johnson leads a discussion about putting on a career symposium. She asks boys and girls to describe what they want to do for a job, and how they can convey that career choice to their fellow students. One teenager, Francisco, says: "An FBI agent. I want to be fluent in many languages and go to law school." Another adds: "A mechanical engineer in Japan. I will study hard, research, and learn the language and culture." A welcome educational answer
Becker says the program is a needed outlet at a difficult time for Boston schools. "There are not enough books. Course offerings are limited; classes are getting bigger. Kids can't do much work because teachers can't respond to it."
In this context, Urban Scholars offers something extra. Courses taught during fall and spring include Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) Preparation, Computers, and Math Problem-Solving. After completing course requirements and Intensive Grammar Review, a student may take college classes such as Physics and Calculus.