November 7, 2001: President's Page
Turning the American Dream into Reality
On a beautiful summers
day this July, I welcomed new students to Princeton. These were not entering
freshmen, but a group of 23 students entering their sophomore year in
local high schools. They were the first cohort in a new experimental initiative
called the Princeton University Preparatory Program (PUPP), created to
help educationally motivated, intellectually gifted students from low-income
working-class backgrounds develop the skills necessary to gain admission
to highly selective institutions of higher education and, once there,
to succeed. Professor of Sociology and Master of Wilson College Miguel
Centeno and Director of Teacher Preparation John Webb designed the program
working with University professors and local educators.
As a Yale graduate who grew
up in a working-class family, Professor Centeno knows that the chance
for an excellent education can change a life, and that entry into a prestigious
university can be disorienting and pose challenges as well as opportunities.
As a member of the Princeton faculty and of the recent Faculty Admission
Study Group, he has seen how difficult it can be to persuade such students
to consider a university like Princeton or for students of working-class
backgrounds to gain the appropriate credentials to be admitted. The relatively
low numbers of these students in highly selective universities provide
strong statistical evidence of this. Professor Centeno thought Princeton
ought to do something to assist these students. The University agreed,
and PUPP was born with seed funding from the Bonner Foundation and from
the University (taking advantage of flexibility provided by Annual Giving).
PUPP aims to reach students
between their freshman and sophomore years, and to give them the type
of enrichment that students in affluent families take for granted. This
summers 6-week program was a first step.
A typical day began with two
80-minute classes, one on marine biology and one combining literature
and writing, both taught by lead teachers from partici-pating high schools,
assisted by undergraduates in the Princeton Teacher Preparation Program.
Students ate lunch with our undergraduates and then worked with them on
learning strategies and study habits. The afternoons included a studio
art class where students learned about the Italian Renaissance and worked
on their own pieces. The students also became acquainted with the Universitys
extensive resources Firestone Library, the athletics complexes,
the art museum, the music laboratories, the observatory, etc.
One day a week was devoted
to field trips designed to introduce the students to resources that comprise
the kind of cultural capital characteristic of many applicants
at highly selective schools. The students studied Mozarts The Magic
Flute, attended a New York Broadway show, and sailed on an environmental
ship on Delaware Bay. While the students spent very full days on campus,
they lived at home to maintain an appropriately close relationship with
their families and communities. The second summer of the three-year program
will feature a similar schedule and the summer before senior year will
include internships with area businesses, government offices, and not-for-profit
institutions to allow students to gain out-of-school work experiences.
We will then assist the students and their families as they navigate through
the admission application process itself. How well they fare will be a
litmus test for this pilot program.
During this first summer we
learned valuable lessons about the kinds of teaching methods and learning
strategies that will pay the greatest dividends for this group. Because
students participate in the program until graduation and throughout the
school year, we have better chances of strengthening academic weaknesses
and honing strengths. This approach means that the collaboration between
Princeton faculty, staff and students and high school principals, guidance
counselors and teachers must be strong and affirming. Program Administrator
Richard Carter of Teacher Preparation is working closely with the high
schools to monitor the students progress during the school year.
Summer connections forged with undergraduates are enhanced during the
academic year through field trips and continued tutorials, and we stay
in touch with the families.
We will not have a full report card on the program until we complete the three-year pilot program, but we knew before the end of this first summer that for the 23 students and their families it was a great success. The students enthusiasm, their determination and commitment to the program were evident in spite of having to get up at 6:00 a.m. to get to classes on time and there were virtually no absences. We know that the benefits also accrue to Princeton directly. Students in the Teacher Preparation Program had excellent opportunities to learn from master teachers. If we succeed, highly selective colleges and universities will benefit from the talents and perspectives of students who might not otherwise come to their campuses.
Perhaps our greatest hope is
that some of these students will be selected by and will accept Princeton.
Our expectations and aspirations for PUPP may seem disproportionate to the numbers of students we can reach75 in any given year, once the program is fully operational. However, the scale fits Princetons mission and approach to teaching, and we hope for a ripple effect: if the program flourishes here other institutions might follow our lead and create similar programs. PUPP is one way we can serve the nation and safeguard the future of higher education. Universities have played a key role in the American dream of social mobility. For the students in PUPP, Princeton is attempting to turn that dream into reality.