February 9, 2016 – Newark, NJ – On Saturday, February 6, the first class of New Jersey SEEDS College Scholars began academic classes on the campus of Drew University. For the next 17 months, these high school students will participate in rigorous academic classes in preparation for application to, placement at and success in competitive four-year colleges across the country.
New Jersey SEEDS is a nonprofit organization that has been changing the lives of motivated, high-achieving students from low-income families for nearly 25 years. The College Scholars Program – SEEDS’ fourth academic program – was announced in April 2015 as an immersion experience designed to reach three times as many students in a wider geographic area than SEEDS’ existing high school academic initiative. College Scholars participate in academic classes each Saturday during the spring of students’ eleventh-grade year, and throughout the twelfth-grade. In addition, students take part in a three-week residential session during the summer before their senior year in high school.
“I’m already incredibly proud of this class of Scholars,” says Imani Gilliam, SEEDS’ Dean of Programs. “This is a driven group of high school students who are eager to learn about the opportunities available to them for college. They got busy working this Saturday and have already begun to explore the benefits of a college education and effectively communicate what they are looking for in selecting a college. I’m excited to see them grow over the next 17 months.”
In order to be considered, students needed to be nominated by their guidance counselors; during this first nomination period, more than 200 students were recommended to SEEDS. Once nominated, students tested with SEEDS and selected students were then invited to complete an application. Sixty-six students from 21 schools in 17 cities completed applications for the College Scholars Class of 2017. Finalists and their parents were interviewed before admissions decisions were made. The 22 eleventh graders accepted as the first class of College Scholars come from 11 high schools in nine cities within 25 miles of Newark. Of the 18 students for whom we have class ranking information, 94 percent ranked in the top 10 of their ninth grade class.
The first phase of the College Scholars Program consists of 14 Saturdays, each with five hours of academic classes. During this academic period, students participate in two and a half hours of test preparation that more affluent students have readily available to them and two and a half hours of College 101. SEEDS’ College 101 class is a proprietary curriculum developed to enhance students’ writing abilities, hone their critical thinking skills, assist students in identifying the differences between competitive colleges, educate them on financial aid packages available, and give them a host of critical skills including public speaking, working effectively in teams, communication and research.
“This is a highly integrated and intensive curriculum,” explains SEEDS President Ronni Denes. “It incorporates all of the skills students need to identify and be accepted to a top tier college, with a rigorous writing component that is critical to their success. In addition to test prep and academic classes, our students will work SEEDS’ Placement team, which has exceptional experience in working with students to identify institutions that offer the best fit and enough financial aid to support success.”
College Scholars will participate in their first SEEDS College Tour in mid-February. The overnight trip will introduce students to five colleges in the Philadelphia region, including Bryn Mawr College, Haverford College, Swarthmore College, the University of Pennsylvania and Villanova University. College Scholars will also join SEEDS graduates who are currently in high school at the annual College Fair to be held in mid-June.
Students prepared for this past weekend’s class by attending an orientation at the SEEDS office in Newark on February 4. After a welcome from President Ronni Denes and Board of Trustees Chair Lee Shavel, Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President at Nasdaq, students and their families heard from Dean of Programs Imani Gilliam. SEEDS introduced program staff, provided an overview of the placement process, introduced the College Scholars curriculum and provided a background on SEEDS and its academic programs. In addition to working closely with SEEDS staff and faculty, each College Scholar will work with a team of College Advocates, volunteer coaches who will be trained to work with students and assist during the college application process.
“I am looking forward to new experiences that will enhance my academic skills, will help me network, and will give me the opportunity to get into one of the best colleges in the country,” says Angel Castillo, a junior at John E. Dwyer Technology Academy in Elizabeth and a member of SEEDS’ first class of College Scholars. “I wanted to apply because I saw an incredible opportunity for low-income students. I realized that NJ SEEDS truly cares about the future of those who want to succeed in life. That’s what made me interested in the organization. Since SEEDS will prepare me with academic and life skills, I will be able to further my education to reach my goals. I strongly believe SEEDS will be an essential part of my route to success.”
Following their graduation from SEEDS in June 2017, College Scholars will receive services from SEEDS’ Guidance department for their freshman and sophomore years in college.