Gail Snowden, CEO of Freedom House, is right about one thing. Given the dismal statistics on high school and college graduation rates, the long-standing community institution had little choice but to offer students an extensive academic support network.
That network comprises two main programs. The first is aptly named Preparing Urban Students for Success in Higher Education or the Push Initiative. Funded by the Boston Foundation, the program offers about 20 Boston high school seniors who are graduating and attending college a chance to attend workshops on a variety of topics, including financial aid, selecting courses and writing effectively.
Through extensive summer classes and on-going mentoring sessions, Snowden says the program helps students undergo the often difficult transition from high school seniors to college freshmen.
“The goal is to keep these kids in school,” Snowden says. “One of the ways we accomplish this is by teaching the students how to manage their time when they are away from home for the first time.”
As it is now, recent reports suggest that only 35 percent of all college freshmen actually graduate from four-year institutions and only 16 percent graduate from two-year schools.
Snowden knows the numbers can improve dramatically with community involvement. “I know we are ambitious, but we have a goal of increasing the number of graduates to 70 percent,” she said.
Freedom House also offers a program that serves as a complement to its PUSH Initiative. Called “Project Listen,” the after-school program offers high school undergraduates lessons on how to manage their future academic goals.
The goal, Snowden explains, is to prepare these students to become community leaders and active participants in their education.
“These programs make a difference in young people’s lives,” Snowden said. “We know they can have impact.”
That is an understatement. Snowden tells the story of one of Freedom House’s educational programs started in the mid-eighties. The Reach Initiative, an acronym for Road to Educational Achievement, provided academic and financial support to several hundred students that planned to attend college.
Twenty years after the program ended in 1993, a study was conducted on those students and found that about ninety percent of them graduated in four years.
More impressive, Snowden said, is that many of those students have returned to Freedom House and have become mentors.
“A lot of them have gone on to become doctors and lawyers,” Snowden says. “And many of them have become teachers. But what makes me the proudest is that they want to return and give back to the community. In fact, four of them have come back and are now members of the Freedom House board of directors.”