All 29 students in Ms. Peay's third grade class in room 204 of the Harrity Elementary School leaned forward from their desks, stretched their hands to the sky, and cried, "Ooo, ooo, me, me." Christopher is finally called on to identify Iraq on the Persian Gulf map and all the students clap when he is correct. These enthusiastic students, unlike many of their counterparts, will be able to pursue education through college -- their class was selected to participate in the Say Yes to Education program. Say Yes and the College Access Program are both efforts spearheaded by University officials and graduates in an attempt to widen the narrow options facing area public school students once they graduate from high school. The Say Yes program guarantees college tuition for elementary classes chosen to participate. The College Access Program is described as a "last dollar" program, because it provides up to $2000 to close the financial gap facing a college-bound senior. The idea of the College Access Program was conceived four years ago by Adjunct Associate Education Professor Norman Newberg, director of the Collaborative for West Philadelphia Schools, who was also involved in starting the Say Yes program. Newberg said he was motivated to form the program because while Say Yes provided "in depth" support for one class, he "simultaneously knew that there were a lot of students out there who needed help." · The Say Yes program, which is designed to encourage students to stay in school, unites interested philanthropists with children in need of money for college. Donors, such as 1966 Law School graduate Robert Toll and Graduate School of Education graduate Jane Toll -- who began sponsoring the Harrity School third graders last October -- promise to pay the tuitions for the students they "adopt." Many of the students' families otherwise would not be able to afford college. Several students in the other third grade class, Ms. Murphy's room 205, said their parents cried when they found out that their class was chosen. "My mom hugged me and kissed me," said Melody, who wants to be a rapper when she grows up. Leeshon, who wants to be a lawyer, said his grandmother "almost had a heart attack" at the award ceremony. "She didn't know where the money would come from to go to college," Leeshon said. As young as the third graders are, the excitement and publicity surrounding the Say Yes scholarship now makes the program seem more like a big party than a chance at a college. As Ms. Murphy explained, most students did not understand the scholarship at first. "They thought it was a lottery and . . . they'd be coming into a lot of money," Murphy said. "Later on, as the weeks had gone by, and by talking to them and explaining exactly what the scholarship consisted of, [they learned] if they continued their good grades that it's a possible chance that all could go to college and college is basically paid for," she said. Philanthropist Eugene Lang originated the idea of a class scholarship in New York City in 1982. His program, called I Have A Dream, began when he gave a graduation speech at the public school he graduated from in Harlem. But Public Policy and Management Professor Alan Campbell said this month that researchers have found that these "standing alone" education incentives -- where individuals sponsor students -- do not seem to provide "sufficient motivation" for the students. "Just that offer does not change the behavior of the kids sufficiently to stop them from dropping out," Campbell said. He added that the programs need to be supplemented with health care, housing and drug prevention, especially for children from broken families. "Unless it is accompanied by a package of social services, the schools cannot provide an environment that's going to make education attractive to the students," Campbell said. But he added that the lack of other social reform packages does not negate the positive aspects of programs like Say Yes. The incomplete "social package," Campbell said, only highlights the point that "one shouldn't assume it is a major answer to the deterioration and near collapse of many central city schools." The students at Harrity are the second group of beneficiaries of the Say Yes scholarship in West Philadelphia. The first class was the former 112-member sixth grade of the Belmont Elementary School. In 1987, George Weiss, a University Trustee, and Diane Weiss, who is the overseer and an associate trustee of the Graduate School of Education, pledged to pay for their college educations. Those original students, now in tenth grade, will have the scholarship offer follow them throughout their pre-college careers, even if they move away to different districts or states. Students in the Say Yes classes at Harrity report that their older and younger friends become "really jealous" when they get taken to Philadelphia 76ers games, the zoo, or other special events designed to enrich the Say Yes classes. The tutoring sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays are not envied by their older and younger schoolmates, however. But the Say Yes students understand the price of the perks. "You have to know all your times tables to be able to go see the Sixers," third-grade student Gregory said. · Those not in the Say Yes classes in need of financial assistance to go to college may be helped in high school by the College Access Program. College Access works intensely with students in nine high schools to help with college and financial aid applications. It also awards "last dollar" scholarships to fill in gaps between the money students get from financial aid or loans and what they can afford to pay to go to college. The award amount has just been raised to $2,000 a year per student for up to five years, starting with the class of 1991. Of the donation, University Trustee John Neff donated the first $250,000 two years ago and CoreStates Financial Corporation completed it through a University gift of $750,000 this January. Adjunct Associate Education Professor Newberg, said that President Sheldon Hackney was very "influential" in securing the funding. The program is seeking a fund of $15 million to provide the "last dollar" scholarships. Currently, the maximum amount that the fund can award each year is $50,000. 60 students received scholarships in 1990, its first year of operation. Newberg emphasized that even $250, which a student now attending Temple received last year, "could make the difference between going and not going." Cunningham echoed Newberg's sentiments, saying that small monetary awards can cover book or transportation costs. But she stressed the importance of the counseling in the program. "Just handing out money doesn't make the kids take the proper courses [to prepare for college]," she said. Cunningham added that many of the students are the first members of their families to go to college or to even graduate from high school, so that "academic lingo" and complicated financial aid forms can be "very intimidating." She recalled a meeting for students who had won scholarships to the state university system, where a father recognized that "going to college was a good thing" for his daughter but later asked Cunningham to clarify a term for him. "What is tuition?" the father asked.Comments powered by Disqus
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