Equity Lab makes Ivy League universities more accessible to students


When Sammar Parham, 17, enrolled at McKinley High School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana three years ago, she had no idea she would take – and pass – a Harvard University course before she graduated. his diploma.

Then again, McKinley High School students are used to being underestimated, Parham said.

“What I’ve heard about Harvard is it’s tough. It’s hard to get in, it’s hard to pass, ”Parham said. “But it wasn’t difficult. It was just different.

McKinley High School has fewer resources than the local Magnet Schools, Liberty Magnet High School, and Baton Rouge Magnet High School. And data from the Louisiana Department of Education shows the gaps extend to ACT scores and school graduation rates, which are lower in McKinley.

Parham herself was refused admission to Baton Rouge Magnet High School. But thanks to a program run by the National Education Equity Lab, a New York-based nonprofit, Parham had the opportunity to follow in the fall of 2020 “Poetry in America: The City from Whitman to Hip-Hop “. the success of other students in the program – helps rewrite the narrative of who belongs to the country’s elite educational institutions.

“There are a lot of negative things people from other schools have to say about us,” Parham said. “And the fact that I came to take this course and passed this course means that the school I come from doesn’t define me.

Making Ivy League universities more accessible

Since 2019, the Equity Lab has been working to open the doors of the college to underserved students and students of color from qualifying schools I and I, which have a high concentration of students from low-income families. The program began with a cohort of over 300 students from 11 cities learning poetry from Elisa New, Powell M. Cabot professor of American literature at Harvard. The 11 cities included four in Louisiana: Lafayette, Lafitte, Opelousas and Baton Rouge.

Today, the program has more than 3,000 students from approximately 75 Title I and Title I eligible high schools. The Equity Lab will also be expanding its presence in the South this year, in partnership with schools in Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina.

“We organized ourselves to have these very narrow doors to college with the college admissions process rather than creating accessible pathways to challenging learning,” New said. “What makes me the happiest about working with the National Education Equity Lab is that they take advantage of the opportunities. And not many people have figured out how to do that.

At no cost, students can take an online course in engineering, political data, environmental justice, psychology, criminal justice, or poetry and earn transferable college credit from any of the seven universities, which now include Yale, Cornell, Howard, University of Connecticut and Arizona State University.

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Student grade average or standardized test scores are not factored into their enrollment, said Ariel Murphy Bedford, CEO of Equity Lab.

Ariel Murphy Bedford is the Managing Director of the National Education Equity Lab, whose national program aims to bring high school students eligible for Title I and I into college courses.

“We believe that in our country, talents are distributed fairly. The opportunity is not, ”said Murphy Bedford. “It’s really about expanding the opportunity to our students, especially the historically underserved communities that haven’t had this opportunity, students of color, and students from low-income communities.”

So far, the results are promising as 86% of the students have passed the course and obtained college credits. There is also evidence of sustainability, as 100% of the districts that participated said they would participate again.

Benefits of dual registration

Murphy Bedford said the Equity Lab hopes to have 10,000 participating students by 2022.

According to a 2016 study by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, dual enrollment in college courses during high school speeds up earning a college degree.

However, barriers remain for students from low-income families. Even with dual enrollment credits, they’re less likely to graduate than students from high-income households who double enrolled, according to a 2017 report from Columbia University’s Community College Research Center.

But Chelsea Schilling, who oversees McKinley High School’s dual enrollment programs, said the Equity Lab model is different from the traditional school curriculum where a teacher will typically follow college-level course material and tailor it for students in the secondary. By offering undiluted college courses with video lectures, she said some of her students were more comfortable continuing their college education.

“I had a few kids take this who never even wanted to go to college. I thought they would be good at it, and it turned out they were, ”Schilling said.

The Equity Lab also provides mentors who help students write college entrance essays and complete applications.

“These are courses for which we just don’t have the funds for our own teachers to teach and which we now have the opportunity to provide to our children,” said Schilling. “It was one of the best things that ever happened to McKinley.”

Parham said she was surprised how much she enjoyed learning poetry. But more importantly, she said, she learned to manage her time better to complete weekly chores.

“I had no idea what a college course looked like until I took the ‘Poetry in America’ course,” Parham said. “College is much more doable than it is claimed in high school.”

A National Education Equity Lab program enabled McKinley High School, graduating Thomya Young, and about 3,000 other high school students eligible for Titles I and I to enroll in Ivy League classes during their grades. secondary studies.

Another McKinley student, Thomya Young, 17, took two college courses through the Equity Lab: Harvard’s “Poetry in America” in Fall 2020 and Yale’s “Psychology and the Good Life” this past. spring. She did this by spending most of her evenings at one of the two jobs she has to save for expenses in her senior year.

Young said the classes helped her feel better prepared for life after high school and also discovered her love for psychology, which she hopes to specialize in after graduating next year. Young said her school is often “automatically underestimated” and she hopes more students like her will have the chance to prove that they are more than their situation.

“Don’t let the company influence your opinion of yourself and tell you you’ll never be anything,” Young said. “I want my classmates to know you can do this. Why not do what they think you can’t do?

Topical advice? Questions? Call reporter Andrew Yawn at 985-285-7689 or email him at [email protected] Sign up for the South American newsletter. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.


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