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With graduation, Wheelock program celebrates a success story

Posted by Sara Brown  June 24, 2011 12:57 PM

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A group of local students may be graduating from high school--and a rigorous supplementary academic program--but this is just the beginning of their time spent in the classroom.

Twenty-five Boston-area students represent the first class of students to graduate from Wheelock's Upward Bound Teacher Bound program, a year-round program that prepares urban high school students for college and a career in education.

"We've watched these young folks really level the playing field with their hard work," said program director Chris Sumner. The students don't necessarily come from the best schools, he said, but they made up for it with hard work.

The program was granted in 2007, and the first class started in April 2008. When the first group of students graduates tonight at Wheelock's Brookline campus, there will be an extra cause for celebration: 100 percent of the class will continue on to college studies, attending schools like Northeastern, Smith, Boston College and Wheelock.

Sumner said that even he, at first, wasn't sure the program would reach this goal. "I was like, 'we're aiming for 100 percent?'" he recalled. But with the resources behind them, he said, the students achieved the goal.

The students participated in a "very, very rigorous four years," Sumner said, including a six-week summer program on Wheelock's campus, with classes in math, science, and foreign languages, and student-teaching experience in elementary school classrooms.

The program continues during the school year, with a homework academy and tutoring, SAT prep, college tours, cultural enrichment programs, and mentoring programs.

Wheelock is one of several Boston colleges to participate in Upward Bound program, a federal college preparation program, bug Wheelock has the only program focused on low-income students who want to become teachers.

Sumner praised graduates including Sasha De La Cruz, a Roxbury resident who will be attending Bryn Mawr College in the fall. De La Cruz and her family were homeless during her first two years with the program, he said, and she is the class valedictorian and commencement speaker at her school, Social Justice Academy.

De La Cruz and a classmate, Dario Hernandez, a Brighton resident who is attending Boston College on a full scholarship, founded a student-led youth program, Moviento Youth Movement.

Graduate Coretta Simmons of Dorchester, who will attend Wheelock in the fall, maintained a 3.0 grade point average despite missing two to three months of school each year as she fought sickle-cell anemia, Sumner said. "She's a real tough kid."

"I'm impressed with them," Sumner said. "It's always been said, if you provide the resources and create an environment that's safe for [students] to dream, to make mistakes, and to find themselves without any of the pitfalls typical of a teenager's life, this is what you get."

"Kids want to go to college," he added.

On Friday night, parents and their families will enjoy a celebratory banquet to commemorate the first group of graduates and their success. Sumner said he plans to "sit back and just enjoy" the students.

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