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Athletes to get help prepping for college

By Andrew Ryan
Globe Staff / August 11, 2011

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At many Boston high schools this year, student athletes will receive a crash course on how to get into college.

From hulking football linemen to spry track stars, about 375 high school juniors will undergo intensive training that has nothing to do with tackling or foot speed. The students will learn rudimentary study skills and time-management techniques; take an SAT preparation course designed by The Princeton Review; and discover how to navigate the admissions process and financial aid.

This College Readiness Initiative is the latest push by the Boston Scholar Athlete Program, a charitable foundation working to fix chronic failings in Boston’s high school sports programs. Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who is scheduled to announce the effort today, described the initiative in a statement as “another step forward in giving our athletes the resources and opportunities they need to bring their talents to the college level.’’

Beginning this fall, the initiative will target high-achieving high school juniors who have already utilized the resource centers and have an eye on college.

Menino launched the foundation in 2009 after a nine-month investigation by the Globe detailed the dreadful state of Boston’s high school athletic programs at a time when the city basked in the championships of its professional teams. Students played on soccer fields without goal nets, practiced baseball in a glass-strewn alley, and shared uniforms and track shoes because there was not enough equipment to go around.

At the time, the Boston School Department allotted less than one-half percent of its budget to athletics, a figure far below the state and national average. The Boston Scholar Athlete Program took off with an initial $5 million gift over five years from Suffolk Construction Co. Other corporations and philanthropists have followed, including the State Street Foundation, which recently pledged $300,000, and Eileen and Jack Connors, who donated $100,000.

The program offers training for coaches, helps supply some equipment, and has established resource centers in each city high school building where students can access free tutoring and other academic aids, said John F. Fish, Suffolk’s chief executive.

“We believe strongly that there is a positive link between athletic success and academic success,’’ said Fish, who described himself as a severe dyslexic who could barely read when he started high school but found support as a football lineman and playing other sports. “Athletics was a vehicle that I used to gain a sense of confidence in the classroom.’’

The new program will be a partnership with The Princeton Review, a company that has made its name over the past 30 years in test preparation for college and graduate school.

This fall, the initiative will offer courses focusing on the fundamentals of being a good student, including time management, study habits, and other critical skills. During the winter, students will take test preparation courses for the spring SAT.

Other components will include help navigating the application process and financial aid and a College Readiness Handbook so students can chart their progress.

“We are providing these students [with] spot-on college admissions, SAT prep, and financial aid guidance so that they will find and earn admission to the best-fit college for them,’’ said Robert Franek, publisher of Princeton Review.

Last year the overall Boston Scholar Athlete Program helped 3,900 students. The goal this year is to reach 1,000 more.

“What we are finding out,’’ Fish said, “is that the level of momentum we have established is pretty powerful.’’

Andrew Ryan can be reached at acryan@globe.com.