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The little class that could

A successful group of grads strengthen the concept of public boarding schools.

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This weekend, Deon Milton will graduate from high school. A slight kid with an easy grin, Deon will attend Hiram College in Ohio next year. It was his second choice, actually, but he is psyched. He has a full scholarship, a place on the basketball team, and lots of plans.

Deon's dad never went to college. Neither did his great-aunt, the one who brought him up, and whom he calls Mom. His real mother - whom he also calls Mom ("Yeah, sometimes it's confusing," he confesses) - didn't finish high school.

In sum, he says, very casually, ticking off all the aunts, uncles, and grandparents on the fingers of both hands - no one in Deon's family has been to college.

"I am the first," he says, flashing his usual grin.

Nationwide, only about 45 percent of public high school graduates this month will go on to a four-year college, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. The rest will attend junior colleges, work, or perhaps stay home and not do much at all.

But Deon's story is a very different one. He attends the SEED school - a highly unusual public school that requires that its city students live on campus.

Deon and his 20 classmates are about to become the school's first graduating class.

The success of these students would be noteworthy under any circumstances.

One class member is off to Boston University, another to Duke, and a third has been accepted at Princeton. Others are bound for American University, the Art Institute of Philadelphia, Georgetown, and other schools. One hundred percent of the class is going to college next year.

But in this case their success is also a big relief, says Leslie Poole, SEED's director of admissions. "These families took an enormous risk and put their faith in us - and we delivered."

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