Yesterday was an unusually lucky day for Room 205 of Harrity Elementary School. At 8:30 a.m., parents and students of the 26-member third grade class learned that through the University-run Say Yes to Education program, Bucks County residents Robert and Jane Toll have guaranteed college or vocational program tuition for each student who completes high school. Mr. Toll is a 1966 Law School graduate and Mrs. Toll received a master's degree from the Graduate School of Education the same year. The gift appeared to be a surprise to the bright-eyed third-graders and their anxious parents, who had been summoned mysteriously to the West Philadelphia elementary school's gymnasium for the announcement. Smiles, applause and a standing ovation greeted the news. Carrie Graham, grandmother of third-grader Rahee Graham, beamed as she called the opportunity for her grandson to go to college "incredible." Jane Toll said that she and her husband wanted to "give [the students] the ability and opportunity to become anything they wish to be." Robert Toll is the chairman and chief executive officer of a construction firm. Jane Toll is the president of a real estate development corporation. In addition to paying the tuitions, the Tolls will contribute to educational enrichment and mentorial programs for the students throughout their school years. Say Yes to Education was born in 1987, when University Trustee George Weiss and Overseer and Associate Graduate School of Education Trustee Diane Weiss pledged to pay for the college educations of 112 sixth-graders at the Belmont Elementary School, if the children had to promised to finish high school. Its goal is to redirect the lives of West Philadelphia elementary-school students by providing financial, educational and psychological assistance and encouragement. Jane Toll said that she and her husband were inspired by philanthropist Eugene Lang, who in 1982 promised to pay for the college education of all 57 graduates of the East Harlem Elementary School in New York City. The Tolls handpicked Harrity because of its proximity to the University, and because it was suggested by the Collaborative for West Philadelphia Public Schools, created by Philadelphia School Superintendent Constance Clayton and University President Sheldon Hackney. The original Belmont Elementary School students, now in 10th grade and numbering 67, were present to welcome their new "brothers and sisters" to the Say Yes to Education "family" and to pass on footballs to each child. The football is the program's symbol -- it represents the chance and opportunity to achieve their ambitions. Linda Hampton, mother of a student in the original sixth grade class, encouraged the parents of the third graders to get involved. "This program will allow my son to become a good and productive person," she said. Diane Weiss instructed the thrid-graders to "take this football and run with it as far as you can go because we have a goal, winning, getting a college education." Superintendent Clayton gave the class her own present, an oversized diploma representing the students' "first touchdown." The diploma proclaimed that the third graders will complete their high school education. In addition to matching donors and classes, the Say Yes to Education program sponsors trips to various universities to show the students what college is like. University of Hartford President Humphrey Tonkin told the audience that the "Say Yes family" is expanding to his city. Tonkin, Hackney and the Weiss's were preparing to fly to Hartford yesterday to announce a sponsorhip there.Comments powered by Disqus
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