March 1, 2004
Lifting, As She Climbs
As a 13-year-old growing up in New York City, Shana Harris, now 29, had no idea that being accepted to the Prep for Prep program would open doors. Now the director of undergraduate affairs at Prep for Prep, this Yale graduate is providing students with the same educational opportunities.
For 26 years, the organization (www.prepforprep.org) has selected gifted minority students from public and parochial schools in the New York City area and prepared them for study at the nation’s top independent day and boarding schools. “The program was difficult—going to class during the summers and on Saturdays. But I rarely looked at it that way,” says Harris.
“Prep taught me that education would expose me to the world and open the world to me.” While at Prep, Harris visited the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, a boarding school she was interested in attending. She was accepted and went on to attend Yale University.
Throughout her education, Harris remained involved in the program she jokingly calls “Prep for Life.” She worked as an adviser to Prep students, helping to ease their transition into boarding school by sharing her experiences.
“These students are provided incredible opportunities to attend one of the most rigorous private schools,” says Peter V. Johnson, senior associate director of admission at Columbia University, who has worked with Prep students and students from similar programs such as A Better Chance (www.abetterchance.org) and Philadelphia Futures (www.philadelphiafutures.org).
Prep’s method of training students has proven successful. Of the 951 college graduates in 2003 who were a part of Prep for Prep, 750 were employed and 115 were full-time graduate students.
But getting kids into such programs requires know-how. Research your local Board of Education’s comparative statistics for elementary and middle schools. The mayor’s office is a good resource for summer or after-school programs.
“The achievement gap is largely caused, or at least perpetuated, because of summer learning loss,” says Earl Phalen, cofounder and CEO of the BELL Foundation (www.bellboston.org), a Boston-based summer enrichment program.
Harris is a great example of the vitality of enrichment programs. “The most valuable lessons I have learned from being a Prep for Prep student have to do with my self-concept,” says Harris. “I cannot underestimate how that feeling of empowerment has affected me to this da