What does a kid do when her elite college dreams are being suffocated by a school system best suited to stifle mobility?

How does she erase the seemingly indelible signs of inequitable schooling and resources from her record and etch her name on the registries of colleges meant for the affluent?

She cheats.

But she doesn’t cheat in a way that is inappropriate, illegal, or disqualifying.  Like those who “out-privilege” and “out-resource” their way into competitive colleges have done for ages, she “cheats” by seizing selective opportunities and information, leveraging extra support, and supplementing her school offerings. And given the depth of her disadvantage, she does all of these things to degrees few can fathom.

You don’t cheat systems so expert at limiting potential and solidifying socio-economic boundaries by doing what is normal.

When Alejandra Villamares checked her online application portal for Wesleyan University in February of this year, she cried new tears. Her Early Decision application to her dream college was met with acceptance and a full scholarship that would make attending a $60,000+ per year college a reality.

Alejandra had worked her way into the 17 percent of accepted students from among the 12,543 applicants to Wesleyan University (a Forbes top ten ranked college). She had managed to win in a system traditionally rigged against students with her profile: the child of Mexican immigrants, low-income, and first-generation college-goer.

Sure…she also had a 4.0 GPA and was her school’s Salutatorian.

But attending a vocational school in Wilmington, Delaware that made national news when a student was tragically beaten to death in the girls’ bathroom and that saw another student murdered a few blocks from the school weeks later, elite liberal arts college enrollment is not the outcome most would expect. Even valedictorians and salutatorians at Alejandra’s school can find themselves in trade schools or community colleges after graduation.

It took more than Alejandra’s unparalleled grind and drive to become an exception to society’s cruel rules. In her junior year she stumbled upon a “cheat code” in a college access program called TeenSHARP that added the strategy, social capital, and support she was missing.

A teacher at Alejandra’s school sought out a partnership with TeenSHARP – an intense out-of-school time program that prepares talented youth of color to attend and thrive at top colleges- and encouraged Alejandra to apply.

But this was no coddled college preparatory experience. Alejandra attended all-day TeenSHARP trainings every Saturday on the University of Delaware’s campus during the school year. These sessions strengthened her academic success skills, cultivated her leadership and network, and developed her expertise in the college admissions process so she could serve as a “college access ambassador” to her peers at school.

Read the article at Urgency of Now.

Atnre Alleyne is the founder and executive director of DelawareCAN: The Delaware Campaign for Achievement Now and the co-founder of TeenSHARP. He blogs at www.fiercelyurgent.com



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