URI's GAP: A decade of contracting for success
PROVIDENCE, R. I.-December 1, 1998 --Anna Kozemhemako, Sophan Sek, and
Ohmar Nieves have something in common with Heng Yan, Attila Hajnal, and
Dimitry Magidin. They are among the latest group of 41 students from Central
and Hope high schools in Providence to sign a University of Rhode Island
Guaranteed Admissions Program (GAP) contract. The signing took place Nov.
12 at URI's Providence Campus.
This is one way the University of Rhode Island's Urban Field Center tells
city students that attending college is possible. The students come from
low-income families and minority communities. Some are newly-arrived in
the country. Most, if not all, are the first in their families to even consider
college as an option.
When the student signs the contract, he or she agrees to follow a rigorous
curriculum, maintain a minimum of a C+ average, attend workshops, participate
in tutoring and group study, maintain a high attendance rate, and become
involved in high school activities such as clubs and student government.
The parent or guardian also signs, agreeing to support the student's efforts
The high school principal signs, agreeing to provide the necessary courses
to fulfill the college-track requirements.
URI's Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid David Taggart signs the contract,
guaranteeing the student a place in URI's freshman class following high
"It's a four-way commitment," said Taggart, who developed GAP
with Urban Field Center head Marcia Marker Feld a decade ago when they realized
that city students were knocking on the admissions door without the required
courses for entry. The program began at Central High School in 1988, with
Hope High School and the Alternative Learning Project in 1992, and Shea
and Tolman High Schools in Pawtucket in 1995. The program now has 461 alumni
including teachers, engineers, health care professionals, and businessmen
"You are being given an unprecedented opportunity," Taggart
told the newest contract signers. "URI receives more applications than
it can possibly accept and must turn away applicants."
The students and their parents looked a bit uneasy in the collegiate
setting. Tricia Abdullah, a member of the first GAP class put them at ease
by telling them she knew exactly how they felt. "I remember wondering,
'What am I getting myself into?'" said the confident and smiling GAP
Abdullah is a long way from her business-track classes at Central. As
a URI undergraduate, she studied in Spain and earned a degree in Spanish.
She was a Rhode Runner in New Jersey for the URI Admissions Office in 1996-97.
Now she's back on the Kingston Campus earning a master's degree in college
personnel, working at the Admissions Office and interning in academic advising
for University College. Abdullah credits Kay Dodge for much of her success.
Dodge, deputy director of URI/Providence School Department Partnership
and the URI/Pawtucket School Department Programs, has overseen the day-to-day
GAP operation since its inception.
Between the 9th and 10th grades, GAP students spend five weeks during
the summer at URI concentrating on three subjects incorporated in innovative
ways: English, physics, and geometry-valuable subjects for college success.
GAP also offers on-site help at the schools, exposes the students to college
by bringing them onto campus, and conducts academic monitoring and advising.
The program also offers job shadowing, student shadowing, peer tutoring,
and workshops on essay writing. Although most GAP graduates attend URI,
a number have gone on to other schools. "Our focus is URI, but our
vision is peripheral," says Dodge.
Dodge delights in each student's success and can rapidly tell you the
individual strengths of the current students and alumni of the program.
Over the last decade, students have learned to trust Dodge and often freely
bring her their hopes and fears. Dodge works closely with Laura Lavallee,
GAP coordinator at Central High School, who shares her enthusiasm. The night
of the latest signing, the two women stood in the background while current
GAP students talked with bubbling enthusiasm about their summer projects.
Dodge and Lavallee say the biggest challenge to helping inner-city students
is breaking down an attitudinal barrier. "They think college is not
for people like them."
This fall, a consortium of 1,200 colleges and universities across the
country including URI, has launched a "College is Possible" Campaign
to get the word out on costs, financial aid and sources of assistance, and
to guide students on how to prepare for college. The GAP program could be
its poster child.
For More Information: Jan Sawyer, 401-874-2116