"Our belief that talent is everywhere" is what sets the summer and after-school college prep program Higher Achievement apart, says Wendy Etheridge Smith, Ph.D., executive director.
The national program is new to Pittsburgh this summer, serving 75 students entering sixth and sixth grades in the Hill District at Pittsburgh Weil and in Homewood at Pittsburgh Faison schools. In Washington D.C., where the program originated in 1975, success is determined by students' later entry into one of the district's competitive-admission high schools. Because Pittsburgh doesn't have such high schools, apart from magnet schools, student success in Higher Achievement will be determined by their later enrollment in Advanced Placement or college prep courses in students' feeder high schools.
Higher Achievement promotes a culture of high expectations, Smith says, claiming an average of 95 percent program completion and 93 percent advancement to college among participants in the four other cities where it has been in place. The summer program offers four classes -- social studies, science, math and literature -- and electives from the Girl Scouts and martial arts to the local arts education program Hip-Hop on L.O.C.K., plus recess and two meals a day, as well as field trips on Fridays and the aid of mentors.
"We're keeping most of our students [but] we're having growing pains," she admits. The program will try to increase the number of students to 90 for its afterschool program in the fall. While Hill and Homewood students are preferred, since Higher Achievement is aimed at underserved communities, students may participate in the program from other Pittsburgh neighborhoods -- if they can get their own transportation to one of the two Higher Achievement schools.
The current students, Smith says "are getting the culture. They're learning to compliment each other," for one thing, which is a bit unusual for middle schoolers, she notes.
Each year culminates in an Olympics of the Mind for teams of four to five students competing in a Brain Quest on three of the summer class subjects, with a separate Math Bowl. Students also compete in a spirit competition that assesses teamwork, a science fair competition, and, at the special request of the Pittsburgh students, a talent competition.
"It's a big celebration of what they've accomplished throughout the year," says Smith of the Aug. 3 event.
Contact Higher Achievement by clicking here
or calling 412-478-6505 to learn more.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Wendy Etheridge Smith, Higher Achievement