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New Haven Works to Put Students on Track to College

City, education, and business leaders in New Haven, Conn., are ramping up efforts to get more students on the track for college.

Today, the city is announcing its public schools will be working with College Summit, a nonprofit that promotes a college-going culture in 170 schools in 12 states through workshops and programs.

"New Haven is making a commitment to providing support to all students for their path to higher education," says J.B. Schramm, chief executive officer and founder of College Summit. "All high school students will get intensive support, and it is also ensuring that students K-8 know the steps they need to be on track."

Today's announcement comes on the heels of last week's, when the city announced the New Haven Promise, a scholarship and support program for New Haven public school students. Eligible students graduating New Haven public high schools can receive full tuition (for up to four years) to attend a public college or university in Connecticut or up to $2,500 annually to attend a private nonprofit college or university in the state. The student must meet residency, civic-behavior, and academic-performance criteria. Grade-by-grade checklists will be available to students to help them make the right decisions during high school to qualify for the scholarship. Yale University is funding the scholarships for the graduating classes of 2011-2014.

The scholarship is part of a broader school reform initiative launched two years ago, says Mayor John DeStefano Jr. "This investment by the university and partners is built on the foundation of closing the achievement gap, reducing the dropout rate, and approaching how we are going to do that differently," he says. As part of the school change efforts, the city worked with the American Federation of Teachers to adopt a contract with an aggressive teacher-evaluation system that DeStefano says helped attract partners.

College Summit helps students buy into the rigor needed to be ready for college, says Schramm. The goal is to make going to college the expectation, not the exception. The program begins by helping schools define new success measures to prepare students with the credits they need for college. College Summit shifts the concept of providing some students with college counseling to making sure every student meets with a counselor. Teachers are encouraged, as well, to build a college-going culture in the curricula. There is also a push to motivate influential students to encourage their peers to pursue college and drive the school culture in a positive way.

Schramm said the move by the leadership in New Haven makes "concrete" the belief that all students can achieve academically, rather than just talking about reform. Part of the premise of the New Haven approach is the idea that scholarships will drive reform, he added. "They are going to invest in getting students to spend time connecting the dots between future goals and academic decisions they make every day," says Schramm.

The city is also unveiling a pre-K-8 messaging and curriculum strategy to get young kids and parents to aspire to college. The earlier the schools start to help students develop good habits and behavior, the more likely they will stay on pace with their studies and be prepared for college, says Mayor DeStefano.

Finally, the city is launching a new concept it is calling "College Corps." Teams of volunteers from businesses, churches, colleges, and elsewhere will engage in a "real retail effort" going door to door to promote a positive path to college. The goal is to encourage parents of younger kids to develop and nurture the set of behaviors that will lead them to college, said DeStefano. To earn the Promise scholarship, the groundwork must be laid early, he says.

"We are completely self-interested in this," says DeStefano. "I want more taxpayers out of this. I want a stronger workforce. I want wealth creation for these young people."

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