Engaging Minds

48 third-graders in Albany get a chance to put a college education in their future

Conventional wisdom holds that a student’s chances for succeeding in college are determined by the grades he or she has accumulated in high schools, and his or her scores on the SATs. But, like most conventional wisdom, that’s only part of the story. There are thousands, more likely millions, of other children throughout the U.S. whose chances for academic success are determined as early as the third grade.

These include the children who come from economically struggling households and do not excel in their schoolwork. But they have potential, often great potential. And, more and more, they will have educators like Roger Hull, the retired president of Union College, to help guide them on their way to a brighter future.

Mr. Hull has launched the Help Yourself Foundation, which is dedicated to helping promising third-graders get a jump start on college. He has a resume to back up his ambitions. While president of Beloit College in Wisconsin, he oversaw an innovative after-school program, beginning with fourth-graders and continuing through high school. The results were impressive: 41 percent of the students stayed with the program, and 95 percent of those who stayed went on to college, compared with 36 percent who did not participate.

Now he wants his foundation to replicate that success, but to begin at the third grade — the age when experts say it is best to engage curious young minds. The first class of 24 third-graders, all students at Pine Hills Elementary School, recently got a chance to meet their teacher and see their classroom at a new afternoon science academy on the campus of The College of Saint Rose, where Mark Sullivan, college president, is an ardent supporter of the program. In January, 24 more students, all attending Albany’s School 18, will attend a similar academy at the Albany College of Pharmacy, with the enthusiastic support of James Gozzo, college president.

The students will benefit from an enriched curriculum that is designed to challenge and motivate them. The emphasis will be 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.

Nor is this a local program. Mr. Hull already has enlisted North Central College in Illinois to establish a similar academy. Eventually he hopes to enlist state universities, community colleges and colleges throughout the country, with an emphasis on campuses in rural and urban regions.

But for now, the 48 third-graders in Albany are pioneers in a program that can’t be allowed to fail. And given the determination of Messrs. Hull, Sullivan and Gozzo, it won’t.

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