In the Classroom

College Summit leaving Indiana after fundraising, expansion woes

PHOTO: TN.gov
Gov. Bill Haslam addresses lawmakers Feb. 2 during a special session of the Tennessee General Assembly. The governor delivered his State of the State address on Feb. 9.

Trenee Lambert didn’t think she was destined for college. Instead, the Manual High School student was preparing for a life of working in retail or the fast food industry.

“That was as far as I thought I was going to go,” Lambert said. “My parents didn’t have an education. They were bare minimum getting by. I thought that was an OK lifestyle.”

But the summer program that helped her, and other students like her, navigate the way to college is pulling out of Indianapolis. College Summit, a national program that helped more than 10,000 high school students make it to college who otherwise might not have gone, is suspending its operations in the state.

“I kid you not, I cried,” Lambert said of her reaction when she heard the news. “I started to think about all the kids we could have impacted this summer. They’re losing out on relationships, skills, mentors. It’s a lot.”

A combination of fundraising woes, expansion setbacks and leadership changes at the program’s various schools caused the organization to make the decision to pull back, said Allen Goldberg, College Summit’s chief marketing officer.

“What happened was a confluence of events more than anything else,” Goldberg said. “There are a lot of changes at the schools that we currently serve and we weren’t adding the number of schools that we needed for our operational model. It just didn’t make sense for us to be there next year.”

Affected schools — including George Washington, Broad Ripple and Arsenal Tech high schools in Indianapolis Public Schools; 21st Century Charter School in Gary; and Cascade High School in Clayton — learned about the group’s decision last month.

Susan Sparks, a newly retired teacher who led College Summit classes at George Washington, said it opened up new doors for kids. College Summit was aimed at promising students who would be the first in their families to go to college. The program taught them how to seek financial aid, how to apply and even how to reflect on their lives to find material for compelling college essays.

The program also featured a week-long summer camp on college campuses to help students better understand the college experience.

“I think it’s a terrible loss for all those kids,” Sparks said. “I think College Summit is a tool that our kids need. They don’t have parents at home who have attended college.”

Just under 61 percent of students graduate in four years at the West side high school, nearly 30 percentage points below the state average.

The Mind Trust CEO David Harris, whose organization brought the program to Indianapolis in 2007 by creating a pilot at Manual High School, said its fundraising troubles represent a new challenge in Indianapolis.

“The education reform space here has gotten very crowded,” Harris said. “We’re a little bit a victim of our own success.”

Goldberg said the organization hopes to resume operations again in Indiana one day. The state still needs better support to get vulnerable kids to college.

“We’re looking at it as more of a temporary suspension of operations,” Goldberg said. “We are definitely winding down with this school year but our desire is to come back as soon as possible.”

To make up the deficit in the meantime, Harris said schools need to “build their own capacity” and get serious about providing low-income kids a path to college.

College Summit changed everything for Lambert, she said.

She never thought she was the kind of person who could go to college. She had been working much of her life, helping care for younger siblings after her father died when she was in elementary school and then in fast food during high school.

Even though teachers thought she was bright, Lambert’s goals were limited. She hoped simply to be a fast food manager some day.

“I realized it wasn’t OK to think that’s all that was out there,” she said.

But College Summit helped Lambert realized she not only could go to college, but that her life story was far from ordinary. In fact, colleges wanted students like her.

“It should be mandatory for every high school student,” said Lambert, who worked in College Summit summer camps.

She eventually graduated from Indiana University with an education degree and became a teacher, now at Indianapolis Public School 19.

In 2011, the Indianapolis Star wrote about her transformation after College Summit in a profile of the program.

Lambert pulls out the article to re-read it from time to time.

“I read it sometimes when I think about it how far I’ve come,” she said.

YOUNG ADVOCATES

New program aims to make advocates out of Memphis high schoolers

PHOTO: Campaign for School Equity
Students discuss advocacy topics during their session at Fairley High School, one of 10 schools in Shelby County participating in the program.

When it comes to conversations about education policy, students are often the least heard.

But amplifying young voices is the goal of a new program launched by two Memphis-based advocacy groups, Campaign for School Equity and Latino Memphis.

“I joined the group because of things that are going on around school, and I believe that we as leaders can change it,” said Angel Smith, 16, a senior at Hillcrest High School, one of 10 schools in the program. “I want to change how our school does discipline … and learn why some schools have more money than others.”

Many students feel powerless to improve conditions at their schools, said Katie Martin, who will oversee the program as advocacy manager for Campaign for School Equity. “It is so exciting to help them discover their own voices and realize that they can have a direct impact on the issues that matter to them,” she said.

About 100 high school students from Fairley, Martin Luther King Preparatory, Hillcrest, Trezevant and Southwest Early College High will take a monthly class on topics ranging from advocacy strategies to political campaign development.

Beginning in November, high-schoolers from Cordova, Wooddale, White Station, Kingsbury, and Southwind will also have classes at their schools.

Mendell Grinter, executive director of Campaign for School Equity, said students have already expressed interest in pushing for better school facilities and more discipline practices based on restorative justice.

The goal is for students to help shape Campaign for School Equity’s legislative platform and run their own school-based advocacy campaigns. In December, students will vote on priorities for the upcoming legislative season, Grinter said.

Students will take courses on research, writing opinion pieces, advocacy methods and campaign development. They also will meet with their local representatives, such as Memphis City Councilwoman Patrice Robinson, who will speak with Hillcrest High students in late October.

Campaign for School Equity is funding the program, and students were selected based on their interest and school recommendations.

Grinter said the program marks a shift in his group’s priorities. Formerly known as the Tennessee chapter of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, Campaign for School Equity has focused on promoting school choice for black families and engaging Memphis clergy around education.

“There are programs in Memphis to reach parents and community members and get them involved with advocacy, but not really students,” Grinter said. “We’re really going to double down on creating that space.”

Latino Memphis is an advocacy group for the city’s Hispanic and Latino communities and is working with Campaign for School Equity to include Latino students. 

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.