Good grades aren’t enough for the Boston Scholars Program. This enrichment program encourages — on top of academic achievement — the personal qualities necessary for success.
Founded in 2003 by a group of young local professionals, the Boston Scholars Program provides academic opportunities to disadvantaged high school students throughout the city.
BSP offers its students tuition assistance, academic and career mentoring, and a variety of workshops on college admissions. In addition, BSP offers lessons on life skills such as time management, resume building and public speaking.
The program also focuses on networking — so its students have regular contact with professionals in their desired career field.
Executive Director Frank Cruz explained that BSP wants its students to “see themselves as a member of a community that is college-bound.”
This networking provides the extra support the students need — since many come from single-parent households, or will be the first college-bound generation in their families.
But BSP also focuses on cultivating leadership skills. “They come in children, shy, and they leave with that self-advocacy and that confidence to be able to succeed and conquer the world,” said BSP Program Associate Charline Alexandre.
“These are great kids, they just need a push,” she said. Jasmine Welcome, for instance, is one of six Dorchester representatives on the Mayor’s Youth Council, an outreach and advocacy group for Boston youth. “I did gain the confidence to do it” through BSP, she explained. “It does take a lot of confidence to walk into a place you don’t know, or to go up and say, ‘Hi, my name is,’ if you don’t know someone.”
Now the 17-year-old senior from Mt. St. Joseph Academy enjoys public speaking and plans to attend Tuskegee University in Alabama next fall, hoping to major in sociology and business.
Similarly, Zakiya Lewis, a 16-year-old junior from Milton Academy, is a member of the Honors Club, the black affinity group at her school. This, she explained, gave her the “confidence to go into a discussion and teach someone something about my culture, or to help them understand the differences or the similarities.”
Lewis recently attended a diversity conference in Colorado, and also serves on the board of the Caribbean Students Association at Milton Academy.
According to Cruz, “One of the hidden treasures of Boston Scholars,” is the diversity these students bring to their independent schools.
“Two different communities are learning so much about each other. Boston can be very segregated — socio-economic polarization keeps going up and up,” he explained.
But BSP students “enrich the educational experience of the other students at their schools,” by enabling them to “learn about Boston and the diversity that exists in Boston and the country as a whole.”
Sixteen-year-old Anthony Norman echoed Cruz’s sentiment. “I have friends who grew up in the suburbs and don’t know too much about urban culture,” said the junior from BC High School. “Being able to teach them certain things, making them cognizant and aware of the world around them — it’s very empowering.”
Norman is a member of his high school’s Black-Latino Student Union. He also swims for the school team, volunteers for the local Boys & Girls Club and hopes to one day become a physical therapist.
Students apply to the program in 8th grade — usually after receiving acceptance to an independent school — and if accepted, begin BSP the fall of their freshman year. After receiving 45 applications this year, 11 students were interviewed, and five are slated for admission.
But the students are clear that BSP isn’t about getting things for free. Instead, they look forward to guiding future BSP students, and navigating college on their own.
“Boston Scholars shows you opportunities and makes you want to go get those opportunities,” said Donald Bland, 18, from Catholic Memorial. Next fall, Bland will attend Bentley College.
“The goal of Boston Scholars isn’t just to give you something,” Lewis said. “It’s to make it so that you can do it by yourself. It’s not just to give you confidence, but to teach you confidence as a lifetime skill.”