New program preps local students for success

Pam Hersh

Princeton NJ -- Summertime -- no more teachers, no more books?

No way, say 23 Mercer County high school rising sophomores who this summer are chanting a different tune and chiming in with an enthusiastic "yes" to summer school -- one called Princeton Prep at Princeton University.

Miguel Centeno (from left), Richard Carter and John Webb are working to open the University's gates to financially disadvantaged high school students in Mercer County through a new summer program called Princeton Prep.



Funded by the University and founded and administered by Princeton faculty and staff, Princeton Prep is a three-year learning and enrichment program for Mercer County high school students who are educationally motivated, rich in intellectual curiosity, but financially disadvantaged. At a recent Princeton Prep orientation, the students indicated they were looking forward to exchanging their usual summertime activity, such as working in a grocery store, for working in an academic and cultural supermarket offering countless treats for the mind.

"Princeton University will shower these students with all possible attention and resources," said Miguel Centeno, associate professor of sociology. The brainchild of Centeno, Princeton Prep has evolved from a passionate idea into reality -- thanks to the planning and guidance of John Webb, director of the University's Teacher Preparation Program, as well as support from the University's provost and dean of faculty. The Teacher Preparation Program recently hired Richard Carter, formerly vice principal of Hedgepath/Williams Middle School in Trenton, as a program administrator whose prime responsibility will be overseeing and implementing Princeton Prep.

"The motivation for this program comes from the disturbing relationship between income and access to elite education," Centeno said. Unwilling to comment specifically on the backgrounds of the students attending the program, he referenced his own background that prodded his unwavering pursuit of a program like Princeton Prep. Centeno, when he was nine, fled Cuba with his mother who raised him in an "economically challenged," single-parent household in Erie, Pa.

"I certainly had none of the cultural and educational advantages that would have prepared me for an Ivy League education," he said. "People without these advantages lack not only the academic skills, but also the confidence and wherewithall to strive for the best in education. I got extremely lucky by being guided and badgered by a cousin to try to go to Yale, which in the mid-'70s was aggressive in its recruitment of an ethnically and economically diverse population."

As he pursued his B.A., M.B.A. and Ph.D. degrees at Yale and went on to teach at Princeton, Centeno became increasingly aware how difficult it was for people from the low- and moderate-income families to overcome the cultural, social and economic divide. Financial aid -- "and Princeton has an incredibly generous program" -- is by itself inadequate as a tool for making the student bodies at elite universities more socially representative, Centeno said. Princeton Prep will provide its students with three years of the kind of intellectual and cultural challenges and opportunities often only available to wealthier children. This exposure will make it possible for them not only to gain admission to the best universities, but also will help them succeed once they are there, he said.

On July 7, 12 students from Trenton, six from Princeton and five from Ewing, will attend a Princeton Prep opening ceremony at the University Chapel and then dive into a challenging six-week program to provide them with: basic skills; some advanced training in different fields enabling them to progress faster through their high school offerings or locate advanced courses in local community colleges; and an introduction into the culture of Ivy League universities.

According to Webb, the curriculum will consist of a quantitative/science program with a lab component and one focusing on humanities including writing workshops and a fine arts section. Generally, Fridays will be reserved for a variety of enrichment field trips to museums, concerts, corporations, etc. New Jersey-certified high school teachers will be hired to do the teaching; upper-class students from the University's Teacher Preparation Program will assist in the classroom and supervise the study hall. The Princeton Prep students will be given a stipend ($750 cash and $250 in escrow for their college education) to compensate for the lost income of not working at a paid position over the summer.

This same group of students will continue in the program for three years, with a new group of ninth-graders being recruited in 2002 and then another in 2003. Once it is fully functional, the program will have a total of 75 students in three different levels. Each year the curriculum will be different, with the third year involving internships with area businesses, government offices and nonprofit institutions.


"People without these advantages lack not only the academic skills, but also the confidence and wherewithall to strive for the best in education."


Carter, whose professional roots are in the arena of school/community relations, will be spending a lot of his time with the teachers and guidance counselors from the high schools, as well as with the parents of the Princeton Prep enrollees. The Princeton Prep program curriculum will evolve on the basis of the feedback from the students' communities.

Carter emphasized that the communication regarding Princeton Prep ought to be two way. The students "bring a wealth of fortitude and commitment as well as a rich set of experiences from which all could learn," he said. "This is not about making them into our image, but about offering new possibilities."

All three Princeton Prep administrators would like to see the students make achievement and excellence "hot" trends in their communities, spread the word about how "cool" it is to come to Princeton and thrive in an intellectually challenging environment. Several of the youngsters indicated that they are eager to take the plunge.

"I can't wait. I had dreams of coming to Princeton University and studying engineering. But I never said anything. I never thought it was possible for someone like me to do that. Now things will be different," Raphael Torres, of Trenton High School, said a few weeks ago at a Princeton Prep orientation session for the 23 students and their families.

Princeton High School's Jessica Sanchez, who is thinking about a career as a lawyer, said that maybe her Princeton Prep experience will inspire her little brother. Others were talking about being doctors, scientists, defense attorneys and poets. One parent marveled at the new opportunities for students, commenting on the "incredible" energy emanating from the room. He called the conversation among the students about careers that may lead to "real" futures "unreal" and praised the program.


May 21, 2001
Vol. 90, No. 28
previous   archives   next


New president
Professor named 19th president
Time is right for Tilghman
Reaction enthusiastic for new leader
Family comes first for new president
Shirley Tilghman bio

Life sciences
Search is on for genomics institute head
Silver: Doubling not necessarily troubling
Landweber tracks changes in genetic code
Virus leaves trail in brain for researchers

Students and alumni
Thesis sparks thriving teacher corps
Recent grad's first novel attracts attention
Student teaching builds bridges
New program preps local students for success

Other news
Merck funds professorship to honor alumnus
Hair colors literary, artistic representations
Class size makes a difference

Remaining discretionary funds to increase staff salaries
Doig announces retirement
Barron is new women's hoops coach
Thirteen faculty members transfer to emeritus status

By the numbers: Reunions
Nassau Notes
Calendar of events

The Bulletin is published weekly during the academic year, except during University breaks and exam weeks, by the Office of Communications, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544. Permission is given to adapt, reprint or excerpt material from the Bulletin for use in other media.

Deadline. In general, the copy deadline for each issue is the Friday 10 days in advance of the Monday cover date. The deadline for the Bulletin that covers June 4&endash;17 is Friday, May 25. A complete publication schedule is available at deadlines or by calling (609) 258-3601.

Subscriptions. The Bulletin is distributed free to faculty, staff and students. Others may subscribe to the Bulletin for $24 for the academic year (half price for current Princeton parents and people over 65). Send a check to Office of Communications, Stanhope Hall, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544.

Editor: Ruth Stevens
Calendar editor: Carolyn Geller
Contributing writers: Jennifer Greenstein, Pam Hersh, Marilyn Marks, Steven Schultz, Regina Tan
Photographer: Denise Applewhite
Design: Mahlon Lovett, Laurel Masten Cantor
Web edition: Mahlon Lovett