SEAD program kicks off

by Kathleen McDermott | 7/11/01 5:00am

Late Sunday afternoon, 20 new faces -- newly arrived from Enfield, N.H. and South Boston -- filled the Collis porch, nibbling watermelon and enjoying the evening breeze. Several hours later, another 10 -- coming from Philadelphia and momentarily delayed by car troubles -- made their way over to the Choates for the night.

Eagerly greeted by Dartmouth students clad in light green shirts sporting the acronym "SEAD," these 30 rising high school sophomores will be joining Dartmouth's own sophomores for the next two weeks through the Summer Enrichment at Dartmouth (SEAD) program, a newly created program co-sponsored by the Tucker Foundation and the Education department that aims to bring together the resources of Dartmouth and the motivation of high school students attending under-funded public schools.

Challenged schools

Mascoma High School, located in nearby Enfield, is but a short drive down Highway 10, yet according to Professor of Education Andrew Garrod is "a world away from the world of Hanover High."

With most educational funding derived by local government, Mascoma -- with only a small rural tax base to draw on -- remains under-funded, Garrod explained.

Many students at this largely under-resourced school meet federal guidelines qualifying them for free or reduced lunches as well, a testament to the economic struggles their parents face.

Two hours south, Dorchester High School in South Boston -- populated largely with black and Latino students -- represents another "very challenged school," according to Garrod.

Sharon Abraham, ninth grade co-academy head and English teacher at Dorchester High School, explained that in a non-magnet, inner-city school such as theirs, students often do not have access to "the resources that they should have."

"It's difficult to teach if there's not enough mandatory texts," Abraham said. Regular access to computers and funding for other supplies is also in short supply, she added.

"A lot of students are reading under grade level," and to administer to each and every student's individual needs in a classroom full of 33 kids is definitely a challenge, Abraham explained.

According to Reginald Mercer, who works for a Philadelphia non-profit targeting inner-city high school students, the problem of inadequate and unequal public schools is not specific to Boston, or Philadelphia, but may be seen in all large cities throughout the United States.

In his work in Philadelphia, Mercer acts as a liaison between students at several non-magnet public schools and adult mentors who help successfully steer them through the system.

Only 30 percent of all students enrolled in Philadelphia public schools graduate within four years, and for every 100 freshmen, only seven will earn a college degree, according to Mercer.

Even "simple things like supplies" and books for students to take home are in short supply, and the schools themselves -- with "tighter security than there is in an airport" -- are "not a comfortable environment to learn in," Mercer explained.

"Most kids have dreams, but will they be able to see them through to graduate?" Mercer asked.

The seeds of SEAD

This past September in Hanover, however, the Education department and the Tucker Foundation contemplated the exact same question -- how students can meet their dreams -- that Mercer posed.

For years the Education department had wanted to carry out a summer educational enrichment program to benefit disadvantaged youth, according to Tucker Foundation Dean Stuart Lord.

"Dartmouth has resources, and an obligation to share them with those who don't have the resources," Garrod, who chairs the Education department, explained.

And this summer, these many resources -- the Tucker Foundation, education department and an eager sophomore class -- have taken shape in the SEAD program.

Students from Enfield and Boston were selected by their respective high schools, while those from Philadelphia were admitted through Mercer's non-profit mentoring program. Undergoing a competitive selection process, they represent "kids who've shown sparks," according to Garrod.

Their two weeks at Dartmouth -- which kicked off this Sunday and will end on the 21st -- will be a flurry of classes, outdoor activities, and one-on-one interaction with a Dartmouth mentor.

After a 7 a.m. wake-up call their mornings and early afternoons are packed with courses in English, math and computer science.

As Jay Davis '90, a local English teacher and the SEAD program's overall coordinator, explained, six teachers pulled from the surrounding community along with six undergraduate teaching assistants will be working to "give the best [educational experience] they can."

Capture the Flag, stargazing, salsa dancing and scheduled study halls fill their afternoons and evenings.

But according to Lord, the most "dynamite" aspect of the program is its mentoring component. Each student is matched one-on-one with a Dartmouth mentor, and simply "to know that a Dartmouth student will be checking up on them" will work "magic."

To help follow up on the mentoring relationship, and improve the students' computer skills, all 30 program participants will receive used computers -- donated by graduating members of the Class of 2001 -- upon departure.

Funds for other program expenses -- totaling $60,000, approximately $2,000 per participant -- were provided for by grants from the Mary and William Barnet II '34 Family Fund as well as the Bildner Foundation, a College foundation dedicated to improving inter-group relations and promoting inter-racial understanding.

In addition, the Class of 1949 donated funds to sponsor one of the students from Mascoma High School.

"Most kids have dreams, but..."

Yet come July 21, when the students depart and return to their home communities and schools, the question still remains whether or not two weeks can undo years of under-funded public schools.

Although the students who have come to the SEAD program want to learn, at their "large, underfunded" schools "teachers are overtaxed ... they can't give individual attention," Garrod explained.

Yet he added that at their age the students are "susceptible for being influenced for the good," and programs such as SEAD can give off "subliminal messages" and reaffirm students' commitment to education, according to Garrod.

"What can it do in two weeks. It can't undo dysfunctional classes ... but it can encourage kids to see within themselves something very worth nurturing," Garrod explained.

According to Abraham, for students from Dorchester High Schools -- many of whom have never before left Boston -- this program is "saying to them, 'you can earn this in three years.'"

"They see themselves on a wonderful campus like this, and say, 'This is the place I want to be,'" Mercer explained.

"We're not changing their environment," Lord added, but "what we are doing is giving them some more tools."