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Dot college prep inspires young minds

Christine McCall

Lisa Andrade, now 18, dropped out of Elizabeth Seton Academy when she was 16 years old. Like many teenagers, Andrade was caught up in her social life, found school boring and wasn’t taking it seriously.

“I didn’t have that much motivation,” Andrade said. And when her peers began skipping classes, she was influenced to do the same.

In the beginning, Andrade skipped a few classes, but soon thereafter she was skipping full days of school to hang out with her friends. Andrade decided to look for a job to occupy some of her free time, but reality quickly set in that without a high school diploma and furthermore a college degree, she would not be competitive with other applicants and able to earn much.

Then she found the College Prep program at Federated Dorchester Neighborhood Houses (FDNH), which was renamed College Bound Dorchester last week at the Little House in a ceremony celebrating FDNH’s 45th anniversary among a crowd of about 150 staff, board members, students, parents, community members and local politicians.

At first, “all I wanted to do was get my GED and get out,” Andrade told the crowd. After four months of taking classes, Andrade received her General Equivalency Degree (GED). She said the College Prep program was different than high school and credits educators Ismail Abdurrashid and Kamau Parker for motivating her to continue to work toward her GED.

“I found myself wanting to come to class each day,” Andrade said. “They were there to help me no matter what so I didn’t fall down. After they’re done helping you, they still check in.”

Andrade is now in her second semester at Bunker Hill Community College studying criminal justice full time. “I do like what I’m studying,” she said. “I’m going to keep wanting to go to school more and more.” Andrade has aspirations to apply to law school and wants to become a district attorney one day.

“My education is something I’ve earned for myself and something no one will ever be able to take away from me,” Andrade said.

In renaming FDNH to College Bound Dorchester, the organization’s new mission will be to “equip all students served with the attitude [and] skills to experience college and positively impact the community.”

“College in a lot of communities is an expectation,” CEO Mark Culliton said. “[The] expectation is there. Kids either rise or fall to expectations.”

At-Large City Councilor John Connolly was in attendance for the celebration and as a former teacher who worked with alternative education methods, he stressed the importance of giving all children a great education.

The goal is to “put them on track to college to get the degree they need to compete in today’s world,” Connolly said. “One day we look forward to being there when you get that college degree.”

Ismail Abdurrashid, the lead educator at College Bound Dorchester, looks forward to that day too. Abdurrashid said that stories like Andrade’s are the best part of his job and make the difficult days worth it.

It is fulfilling for Abdurrashid to not only be able to impart educational skills on the students, but also have the ability to help them with life skills. Abdurrashid describes College Bound Dorchester as having a mission within a mission. The newly named group aims to provide services to ensure that students don’t get lost on the path to higher education, as well as give students the appropriate tools to realize their career and life goals.

“[We are] trying to use education as a means to change the culture and mindset of a population of people who have been grossly underserved for a very long time,” Abdurrashid said. “A lot of students have been conditioned by failure.”

The challenge for Abdurrashid and the other educators is to get the students to believe they can succeed. “We’re here trying to let people know we’re here to compete,” he said. “We’re here to achieve. Be patient and watch.”

In FDNH’s 45 years, about 25,000 students have taken part in the various programs – Early Education, Out of School Time, Adolescent Development, Alternative Education and Adult Education. The College Prep program caters to 16-24 year olds who have left school and gives them the opportunity to complete their GED, advance to college and then graduate with a degree.

James Bonner, 19, is another example of a teen in Dorchester who is back on track and committed to realizing his dreams. He dropped out of high school at the age of 16, went back at 17 and then dropped out again. Bonner expects to receive his GED later this month after taking part in the College Prep program and would like to attend Berklee College of Music.

“Music is my passion and I want to let people know this is my life,” Bonner said. “If you want to make a change like me, you got to go for gold. Never give up because nothing’s impossible because all you need is willpower.”

For more information about College Bound Dorchester and the services it provides, visit http://www.collegebounddorchester.org.