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Giving New Students a Leg Up

In order to prepare scholarship students for their first year at their new schools, New York-based Prep for Prep insists that all the kids it places participate in an intensive 14-month program while still attending their old schools. All Prep for Prep students must agree to take special classes every Saturday during one school year, and all summer long over two summers.

The idea is not just to bring the kids up to speed academically, but to set them a bit ahead of their peers in private school. The hope is that in that crucial first year they'll feel an extra measure of academic confidence and thus be freer to focus on social challenges.

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But the program doesn't stop there. The literature chosen for them to read and much of the course work they do focuses on questions of identity. It seeks to introduce the kids to characters in books who struggled to find their way, often as outsiders. Among other books, the students are asked to read and discuss "Black Boy," by Richard Wright; "The Diary of Anne Frank"; "To Kill a Mockingbird," by Harper Lee; "Lord of the Flies," by William Golding; "Animal Farm," by George Orwell; "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," by Maya Angelou; and "The Chosen," by Chaim Potok.

"We want them to get a sense that it's up to them," says Aileen Hefferren, director of development for Prep for Prep, "that they're the masters of their own fate."

Many of the Prep for Prep students agree that the program was crucial to their success, but most also say it was tough. Sheila Adams remembers watching her sister and friends play outside on a Friday night one summer while she, at age 11, still had hours of homework to do. She put her head down and cried, thinking she wanted to quit. But it was her mother, she remembers, who kept her going by telling her, "Girl, you know you want this. And you know you can do it."

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