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College Preview Gives Teens Bigger Dreams

College Preview Founder Vu Quang, Ed.M.'02, and Director of Teaching and Learning Jenny Muscia, Ed.M.'02College isn't an option on the table for every high school student. Family finances, home life, lack of direction, and other distractions sometimes get in the way of making college viable for a high school student's future. But, through his nonprofit program College Preview, HGSE Alum Vu Quang, Ed.M.'02, wants teenagers to realize that college doesn't have to be a dream, but can be their reality. And, the best place to start making that a reality is on Harvard University's campus.

From July 16–July 23, 10 high school students from urban communities visited Harvard through Quang's program to get an initial taste of the college experience. The students, the majority of whom attend Malden High School, stayed on campus at the Currier House--or with HGSE staff or student volunteers--attended classes, and listened to various speakers about difference aspects of high school, college, and career planning.

Anrig Professor Richard Elmore, who encouraged Quang's interest in this program, sponsored the event. "The most important thing you can do for high school kids is help them understand how important it is to be prepared for college," Elmore says. "The kids in the course of normal events don't have access to these decisions."

Although College Preview is supported by a private patron, Quang says that without the support of Elmore and the HGSE community the program would be "dead in the planning stage." It was in Elmore's course, Politics, Policymaking, and Political Action in Education, that Quang first began to envision College Preview, although his personal story was the inspiration. Growing up in an Indonesian refugee camp and in the hub of the Toronto drug market, Quang worked as a janitor cleaning floors, uncertain of how he could escape that life. Quang saw a new path on a visit to Cornell University and decided that education would be the way out. This lead him to Boston College and, eventually, to a scholarship from HGSE.

Through College Preview, he wants to create for high school students an experience at Harvard like the one he had at Cornell. The program uses an interdisciplinary framework design to expose participants' imaginations to possibilities they may not have otherwise considered.

Quang recruited Jenny Muscia, Ed.M.'02, a reading specialist and English teacher who has extensive experience with at-risk students to play a key role in the organization. She is now College Preview's director of teaching and learning and an officer on the board of directors. "These kids have great potential," Muscia says. "But, they are the kids who traditionally fall through the cracks for a variety of reasons. College Preview aims at helping these kids to become assertive, proactive individuals who can advocate for themselves and become noticed by adults in their schools, so there is no chance that they will become lost in the system."

The 10 students at Harvard this past July are the first to try out College Preview's four-step program. Phase one involves the summer program where students spend a week on campus. In phase two, the same students return to Harvard on Saturdays in the fall to experience more college life such as football games and various speakers. Phase three starts to focus more on the students' futures by working on a summer internship at a corporate company. The final phase involves helping these students apply to college with hopes that they will get in. But, ultimately the goal is to get these students to open their eyes about what could await them beyond college.

College Preview student, Allan Mai, receives his diploma from (l-r) Anrig Professor Richard Elmore, Boston College's Carol Hurd Green, and Lecturer Terrance Tivnan

During their activity-filled week at Harvard, students were greeted by many members of the HGSE community. Dean Kathleen McCartney spoke to students about growing up in nearby Medford, Massachusetts, and the challenges she faced in pursuing her own education. She told the students how, like many girls of her generation, she was not always encouraged to pursue her fullest academic potential. "It's important for all students to have an opportunity to attend college," McCartney says. "This program will make college more accessible for students, and I am glad that the Ed School can play a part in shaping their futures."

Students also spent time at the Gutman Library learning about researching and writing papers. "You could see how these students were so thrilled," says Deborah Garson, head of research services. Garson was equally impressed with Quang and Muscia's dedication and commitment to the students.

The week ended with a commencement ceremony for the students that not only provided an opportunity for parents to get involved, but also gave the students a sense of accomplishment. Elmore and Lecturer Terrance Tivnan, along with Boston College's Carol Hurd Green, dressed in academic regalia and presented each of the students with a diploma as they walked across the stage in Askwith Lecture Hall.

"The exciting feature of this program was how comprehensive it was for the students," Tivnan says. "It gave them exposure to the academic world of college, the social world of working and living with peers, the interactions with adults, the practical issues of financial aid, and the importance of being well-rounded by taking an active part in both academic and extracurricular activities. The program provided realistic experiences, and the students were treated as very special people."

While it's too early to tell the ultimate outcome of the students' futures, Quang and Muscia say that, by midweek, the program already appeared to be working for many of the students in changing their attitudes about the possibility of college.

By the end of College Preview, one student, who had planned to be a mechanic, was now expressing an interest in engineering at M.I.T. Another student who wants to become a police officer now understands that college is an important and necessary stepping stone to reach that goal. Even in the days following the program, the students were still thinking about their futures. "I have to tell you that yesterday when I got back to Malden and looked around, I compared it to Harvard and it changed my whole outlook on things," one student wrote. College, the student declared, is the best path to an improved future. "I realized that I need to get into a better environment. The best way to do this is to get into a good college."