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 to succeed. 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 school graduation. “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 and women. “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 grad. 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. -xxx- For More Information: Jan Sawyer, 401-874-2116