By Scott Waldman | July 22, 2012
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ALBANY — An Albany middle school has started a unique partnership with Syracuse University to help lead children in some of the city's most diverse and poorest neighborhoods on a path to college.
Fifth-graders at the KIPP Tech Valley Middle School already travel to Syracuse every fall to experience college life for a day. Now, Syracuse is looking to enroll 15 to 20 KIPP alumni every year. Students must meet Syracuse's academic standards, and while it is open to the entire KIPP network of 37,000 students, the partnership will target children from Albany because of their relative proximity to the university.
Syracuse has a need-blind admissions policy and, through grants and loans, will work to meet the financial needs of all KIPP students it enrolls. Many will be the first in their family to attend college.
While many high schools partner with colleges and universities, it is extremely rare for a middle school to connect its students to higher education.
College readiness is a focus of the school, which has pupils in grades five through eight. College banners hang in classrooms throughout the building on Northern Boulevard. The focus on higher education for students who are four years from even applying to college makes it seem like it should be their destiny, said Dustin Mitchell, the school's executive director.
"It gives the kids a reason why they're working so hard," he said. "It gives us a common language to talk with the kids."
Tatiana Cordero, 17, remembers taking the trip to Syracuse when she was in fifth grade. She said it was exciting to feel like an adult and to see how college students lived. Even as she struggles in school, she has used the trip as a motivator to remind her that work today will mean college tomorrow. She is in 11th grade at the Albany Leadership Charter High School for Girls and plans to apply to Syracuse. "If I never got to do that in middle school, I don't think I would be ready for the college experience," she said.
KIPP has 125 charter schools serving 37,000 students in prekindergarten through 12th grade in 20 states as well as the District of Columbia. Schools have high rates of poverty among the students, many of whom are minorities. KIPP has partnerships with more than a dozen other universities, and Syracuse will enroll 17 KIPP alumni next fall.
Jason Brooks, a Syracuse alumnus and a member of KIPP Tech Valley's board of trustees, said KIPP students have been prepared well for college, so colleges know they are getting quality applicants. He has led the annual Syracuse trips for seven years and said the first students will be seniors this year. He said a number are planning to apply to Syracuse.
This fall, Brooks will inflate an 8-foot Otto the Orange, the Syracuse mascot, in the school's lobby. It will be yet another reminder for the KIPP students that preparation for college begins in middle school.
"It helps deliver the message that this is obtainable and this is an opportunity that will be made available to you if you work hard," Brooks said.