Hundreds of students from several local Brooklyn high schools appeared at Long Island University’s Kumble Theater yesterday to take part in the launch of the Department of Education’s Smart Scholars program in Brooklyn.
Inspired by the national Early College High School Initiative (launched by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2002), the Smart Scholars Early College High School program links area high schools with local colleges, while offering students who are at-risk educationally an opportunity to graduate high school with up to 2 years worth of college credits.
Boys & Girls High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant (in partnership with Long Island University) and Medgar Evers College Preparatory School (in partnership with Medgar Evers College) will be joining the Smart Scholars program for the first time this year.
At Wednesday’s event, students from City Polytechnic High School of Engineering, Architecture and Technology (in partnership with NYC College of Technology) and Pathways in Technology Early College High School (in partnership with NYC College of Technology) joined local politicians, educators and parents to announce Brooklyn’s participation in the free-of-charge program which has doubled its size, thanks to funding provided by the state Board of Regents.
“This is a new paradigm; this is how we should be doing education in our state,” said state Senator Velmanette Montgomery (18th District), a ranking member of the state’s Committee on Children and Families. Montogmery was a big supporter and a key player in helping to guide funding for the program into Central Brooklyn to include BGHS and Medgar Evers Prep.
“We have gone too long where so many of our young people come in at first grade, get on the train and the train takes a turn in the wrong direction and they end up in the juvenile justice system and then ultimately in the prison system. We want to change that trajectory. No one who enters first grade should be heading anywhere else but to college.”
In 2007, the state’s Board of Regents proposed the Smart Scholars program to help close the achievement gap in New York. The University of the State of New York (USNY) started the first cohort of 11 SS ECHS school-college partnerships in December 2009 through a four-year, $6 million grant provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
A couple of years later, after witnessing significant success with the program, the Board of Regents with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s support, provided another $6 million to fund a second cohort that includes 12 new participating schools as well as four partnerships from the first cohort that will expand their services.
There are now 27 high school/college partnerships in New York state, serving over 5,000 students.
“One of the benefits of being a part of this program is that we have a great partner in LIU,” said Boys & Girls High School principal Bernard Gassaway. “We hit the ground running from the first time we met. We had a like-minded relationship as far as caring, loving and supporting children. So not only will the cohorts of say 25 students benefit from this relationship, but eventually all of the students at Boys and Girls High School will benefit regardless of whatever struggling middle school that they come through.”
The key components of the Smart Scholars ECHS program include targeting traditionally underserved high schools, providing students with transferable college credits and attaining college readiness for students through intense academic and social support.
“For most people high school is just the first stop of their roller coaster of grade school,” said Aishah Scott, who graduated from one of the city’s first early college colleges, Bard High School Early College in Manhattan, and is now a PhD candidate at Stony Brook University.
“But for me it was truly a foundational stepping stone. Bart provided me with the foundational skills that brought me through undergrad with honors, my first Masters and to candidacy today. They provided me with an environment that forces you to be the best version of ourselves and encourages you to think outside the box.”
“I’m just pleased to be in the company and in the environment where people affirm what I’ve lived all of my life,” said Brooklyn councilman Albert Vann. “Knowing that our children can achieve successfully and meet every challenge if they are loved, if we put them in a positive environment and if we provide the resources there’s nothing they can not do.”