New program preps local students for success
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.
"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.
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.