Former Union president launches foundation to help low-income children

Academies Open Doors to College

ALBANY – Geographically speaking, college life is less than a five-minute walk away for the third-graders at Pine Hills Elementary School. But for many of the low-income children who attend the former School 16, the prospect of actually attending college someday could be far more remote.

Former Union College President Roger Hull says he aims to change that with a new after-school science academy starting with 24 students this fall at The College of Saint Rose. In January, 24 third-graders from across town at School 18 are scheduled to get their first taste of college as Hull’s new Help Yourself Foundation rolls out an academy at the Albany College of Pharmacy.

“I want to make it possible for kids who never would have thought it possible to go to college,” Hull said Wednesday in a meeting with the Times Union Editorial Board. Saint Rose President R. Mark Sullivan and James Gozzo, president of the pharmacy school, endorsed Hull’s key strategy of creating college-based programs to engage children at a young age.

“If you focus on high school, it’s simply too late,” Hull said.

Children enrolled in the academies will be selected by officials in their schools. The idea is to target low-income children who show potential but do not now excel in their schoolwork. Involvement by a parent or a parent “surrogate,” such as a grandparent, aunt or uncle, or even an older sibling or family friend, is another central element.

The Help Yourself Foundation curriculum concentrates on science for third-, fourth- and fifth-graders; math for sixth- and seventh-graders; civics for eighth- and ninth-graders; and critical thinking and writing skills for older students.

The curriculum is designed to focus first on subjects such as science and math, where American children – especially those from racial minorities and low-income families – most often fall short, said Sullivan. “You have to turn the light on very early to engage that young mind in what math and science is all about,” he said.

“This third-grade level is an essential level to spark an interest,” Gozzo agreed.

Gozzo said low-income high school juniors who participate in an Albany College of Pharmacy summer program too often lack the earlier educational background they need to succeed, even if they do get enthused about attending college.

“In many ways, we are setting them up to fail,” he lamented.

Eventually, the college presidents said, they hope the Help Yourself Foundation academies will bring more students from poor and racially diverse backgrounds to their colleges. More immediately, they want to expose current students to children and families from more diverse backgrounds.

“Our students tend to come from very small, conservative towns in upstate New York,” Gozzo said, describing the benefits of the program as “two-way.”

North Central College in Illinois is slated to launch a Help Yourself Foundation academy next summer. sHull modeled the academies on a program he helped launch while he was president of Beloit College in Wisconsin in 1988, and he said he hopes to add at least three more colleges to the foundation’s participants each year.

He will look to add community colleges, state universities and colleges from rural and urban areas. “I want to prove that this program can work anywhere,” he said.

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