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High Schools That Overcame Odds are Honored by College Board

Just what mix of ingredients can motivate students to learn in the classroom and beyond? Creating a college-going culture is a struggle in many schools, but it can be especially challenging in communities facing economic or social barriers.

This week, the College Board announced winners of the Gaston Caperton Inspiration Award, which recognizes high schools for overcoming the odds to improve their school environment and help underserved students access higher education. The Inspriation Awards have been given out since 2001, but were changed earlier this year to honor College Board President Caperton, who will retire this year.

The three top schools receiving $25,000 each were:

Johnny G. Economedes High School, Edinburg, Texas
Fort Lauderdale High School, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Woodbury Junior/Senior High School, Woodbury, N.J.

The six Honorable Mention Awards of $1,000 each were:

• La Puente High School, La Puente, Calif.
• Rio Rico High School, Rio Rico, Ariz.
• Springfield Central High School, Springfield, Mass.
• Los Fresnos High School, Los Fresnos, Calif.
• United High School, Laredo, Texas
• Edna Karr High School, New Orleans, La.

The winning high schools showed significant and consistent growth in the number of students taking rigorous courses and the percentage of students accepted to two- or four-year colleges. To be successful, the schools established an achievement-oriented school climate, setting and celebrating goals for students to earn college credit while in high school through Advanced Placement and dual enrollment. Educators went beyond the curriculum, for example by hosting clubs for migrant students, organizing college visits, and providing tutoring. Partnering with alumni, community organizations, and parents also proved to be useful approaches in the winning schools.

Mike Marriner, founder of Roadtrip Nation, the project and television series that visits high schools across that county helping young people find their passion, served as a judge for the awards.

Looking at all the applicants, Marriner says he was struck by the success that some schools in rural, remote, and poor areas are having in promoting college among high school students. "The teacher component is critical," he says. "You can't always count on the parents, because many have not gone to college themselves. You have to rely on a passionate teacher. Some teachers are straight-up heroes—caring about their kids and implementing afterschool programs."

Celebrating this success can be powerful for these communities, adds Marriner: "The award is a big game-changer. It instills a sense of possibility."

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