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New help for US students. Businesses, individuals join to provide financial support

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It was no ordinary Wednesday for public education. From the ``rust belt'' to the Sunbelt, businesses and city residents joined together to boost their beleaguered public high schools -- and the dreams of their often disadvantaged students.

At a late-morning press conference at the historic Old State House in Boston, area business leaders unveiled a stunning new $5 million program. The two-pronged plan not only guarantees financial aid to all qualified graduates of the city's public high schools. It will also provide jobs for these students when they finish their education -- the first such private-sector promise in the United States.

Just hours earlier, in Dallas, New York philanthropist Eugene Lang helped launch a separate nationwide initiative modeled after his successful ``I Have a Dream Program.''

Both events reflect a scattered but growing movement -- fueled by businesses and individuals -- to invigorate the nation's public schools in the face of federal budget cuts. In Los Angeles, for instance, well over 500 local businesses have ``adopted'' individual schools, and now offer tutoring, career education, even classroom materials. Similar programs have been established in Pittsburgh and other cities.

``Many of these young people need someone taking an interest in them, encouraging them,'' says Brunetta Wolfman, president of Roxbury Community College and an unflagging activist for urban youth. She adds: ``I just hope the word gets out to kids -- that they do have a chance.''

Lang's idea of ``adopting'' specific classes of sixth-grade students has certainly lifted hopes and sparked interest since it was uncovered by the news media a year ago. If you finish high school, he told the group of black and Hispanic youngsters, I'll pay your college tuition. His incentive worked: While 75 percent of the minority students in New York drop out of high school, Lang expects 50 of the 51 students to get diplomas next year. Of those, 20 to 25 will probably enroll in college.

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