Summer vacation typically means days of relaxation for students. But that’s not the case for a group of highly motivated Bridgeport kids who are hitting the books at the University of Bridgeport with the goal of graduating from high school and getting into some of the nation’s top universities.
Seventh-grader Nathan Shaw, of Bridgeport, sharpens his algebra skills at Educational Talent Search, an academic support and college prep program for disadvantaged students that’s been run by counselors at UB for 19 years and currently has summer sessions for middle-school students. Eighty-eight percent of kids from the program have gone on to college, more than double the national average.
The students are working with counselors at the University of Bridgeport’s Educational Talent Search (ETS) Program, which for nearly two decades has provided academic support for a whopping 800 kids per year.
Three-quarters of students in the program come from low-income households. And three out of four are being raised by parents who never attended college, and are thus are ill-equipped to help their children prepare for a higher education.
Even so, 88 percent of kids who finish the ETS program, which runs from sixth grade through 12th grade, have gone on to college. By comparison, just 40 percent of low income kids enroll in college, according to study released in June by the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance.
Talent Search’s highly successful track record has enabled it to obtain ongoing funding from the U.S. Department of Education. The most recent grant, awarded in 2006, is worth $1.7 million.
During the summer, 20 of the 800 students who participate in ETS programs during the school year continue their studies at UB. They come from various middle schools in Bridgeport and devote their days to honing skills in algebra and creative writing, the so-called academic core of their curriculum.
“The goal is to help the kids stay prepared so when they go back to school, they’re ready,” says Marjorie A. Bernard, who has directed Educational Talent Search for the past 19 years.
Students like 11-year-old Jorge Alvarez arrive ready to work.
“Last summer I stayed home and played PlayStation 3 the whole time. I had nothing to do,” Alvarez said. When told that ETS had extended summer classes for middle-school students, Alvarez jumped at the chance to participate.
“I want to get better in reading and writing. I got Bs in them last year, but I want to be in the National Junior Honor Society. If I get As and Bs for three marking periods, then I’ll get in,” says Alvarez, who begins the seventh grade at Multicultural Magnet School this fall. “My parents want me to reach my highest goals, too, so I can get into a good college. I really want to go to Yale.”
Rayon Bernard, tutorial coordinator at Educational Talent Search, works with student Jamiya Williams, 12, at the University of Bridgeport this summer.
Alums who have completed the program say such dreams are attainable.
Oneil Mitchell was a transfer student from Jamaica when he arrived at Bridgeport’s Central High School in 1991. The oldest of four boys whose father had passed away, he was raised by a mom who never attended college. Today, the 35-year-old is an associate director at UBS in Stamford, CT, who graduated with a business degree from the University of New Haven.
Today, Mitchell continues to stay in touch with Bernard and regularly visits Talent Search to encourage a new generation of students.
“I tell the kids, ‘When I was a student, I knew I wanted a better life, but I didn’t know how to get there. Talent Search put me on the path.’ I think the kids who come to the program and stick with it have the determination to make it out of the inner-city and go to college.”
Media contact: Leslie Geary, (203) 576-4625, firstname.lastname@example.org