Student group hopes to bridge achievement gap

Students for Education Reform will bring ninth graders to campus.

Student group hopes to bridge achievement gap

Kia Farhang

Gus Gleiter wants underserved kids to know they can go to college.

He and other members of Students for Education Reform will give local ninth graders a taste of life at the University of Minnesota on Thursday as part of their efforts to combat the educational achievement gap.

“What we’re trying to do is kind of plant the seeds of college,” the history and communications senior said.

Students from the Minneapolis College Preparatory School — a public charter school that opened last year — will take a campus tour, see a chemistry demonstration and meet with student groups at Thursday’s “College 101” event, Gleiter said.

“The thing about SFER is that we want to make it clear to these kids that they can go to college,” he said. “We want to combat … the defeatist mentality of ‘this wouldn’t even be possible’ for them.”

MCPS students visited the University in October, said college counselor Taylor Wright, but they mainly interacted with the Office of Admissions.

“The kids just didn’t really get a lot from it,” Wright said.

Because most MCPS students don’t have college-educated parents, Wright said, “they just don’t know what college really means.”

Wright said she thinks Thursday’s programming will better suit MCPS’s diverse student body.

A day in the life

Disparities in educational achievement across racial and economic lines — often referred to as the “achievement gap” — have received attention nationwide.

In 2011, about 84 percent of white high school students in Minnesota graduated on time, according to the Minnesota Department of Education. Less than half of all black students accomplished the same.

“We cannot be competitive going into the near future with the kind of graduation rates that we have,” said Sondra Samuels, president and CEO of the Northside Achievement Zone, a nonprofit that prepares children living in north Minneapolis for college.

Samuels said the achievement gap is preventable and that children rise or descend to the expectations set for them.

“We’ve never, as a country, done right by particularly low-income Americans and Americans of color,” Samuels said. “Our remedy for kids who go astray … the only thing we guarantee them is prison.”

Nationwide, more than 80 percent of students from high-income families who graduated from high school in 2010 attended college right away, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. About half of students from low-income families did so.

Thursday’s event is designed to show kids what a day in the life of a college student is like, SFER member Kenneth Eban said.

“If you never come to a college campus, there’s always going to be that barrier in your mind,” said Eban, a political science sophomore.

He said his group is working with MCPS because they’ve had a good relationship in the past.

“We knew that charter schools don’t really have the resources to necessarily do this as often as they’d like,” Eban said.

Wright said she hopes the kids will be able to interact with college students with similar backgrounds.

“When that opportunity’s not there,” Wright said, “It’s really hard to then find it’s something to reach for.”