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Chasing an Education: Boston Scholars Program Helps Kids Win the Race

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 While teaching a film class, I had my students watch the documentary The Boys of Baraka. The film follows four boys who are sent from their inner-city schools in Baltimore to a private school in Kenya, where the teacher to student ratio is one to five. The boys are almost uniformly helped by the school, and it is devastating to watch the film’s ending—the school is forced to close because of violence.  


After the viewing, most of my students seemed to have the same reaction as me: What could we do about it? Sending these children, who so desperately needed a way out, to school in Africa or somewhere like it, seemed impossible. It seemed so out of our reach that, for the most part, we could only assume helping children like the ones in the film was something other people, wealthy people, people who know a whole lot more about philanthropy, were capable of doing.   


However, a group of young professionals in Boston has proven that, with a little effort, anyone can help, and they can do it close to home. When most people graduate college, the last thing they’re concerned about is how to get other people, especially those they don’t know, into it. Not so for Ann Mittelstadt. While other recent graduates worried about how to make the transition from cooking with a hotplate to owning a house, Mittelstadt, a  Duke University graduate and Risk Management Senior Deal Analyst at General Electric,Co., was busy determining how she could give back. Along with seven other generous young professionals, Middlestadt created the Boston Scholars Program (BSP). “We looked to see where there was a need, and it led us to the schools,” Mittelstadt says. According to BSP’s Web site: “Boston, though an established business and social hub of New England, has some of Massachusetts’ poorest performing students as measured by the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS).”   


The Boston Scholars Program was founded in 2003. It focuses on providing underprivileged youth with better educational opportunities through scholarships and mentoring. The mentors for the students have all gone to college, and it is the hope of BSP volunteers that their mentees will also attend an institute of higher education. In its first year of operation, the 2004–2005 school year, the program provided funding and support to eleven students who had been accepted to private schools. Most of the student participants in the program come from  inner-city neighborhoods. The students who participate in the program are selected based on four criteria: individual achievement and enthusiasm; academic potential and integrity; financial need; and leadership and community involvement. BSP partners with several area schools and organizations, such as Big Brothers of Massachusetts Bay, in order to effectively reach these students.


The selected students are held accountable even after acceptance. Participants must attend a few special programs a year as well as meet with their mentors regularly. “Effort and integrity are more important than actual GPA,” explains Mittelstadt. “We want to see if the kids are trying.” Middelstadt says that funding for BSP comes from four avenues: individual donors; corporations that sponsor events; foundations; and fundraising from various events the program throws.  


Boston Scholars continues to grow, having moved from an entirely volunteer-based effort just last year to a staff of two. However, help is still needed, and there are plenty of volunteer opportunities available, ranging from giving time to offering donations. For a more detailed explanation of how to get involved with Boston Scholars, visit the Web site at http://www.bostonscholars.org/.

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