The Expanded Success Initiative’s name challenges the stereotype that African American and Latino youth are swept up in a social pathology of disinterest in education, irresponsibility and criminality. At SEO, we can attest to the determination of low income youth to succeed, despite the daunting adversity that many of them face daily.

This past winter, we had one thousand seventy New York City 9th grade public school students apply to SEO Scholars. They applied knowing that for the rest of high school our program requires students to attend SEO classes in English and math three Saturdays per month, from 8:45am until 4:30pm, attend an additional two hour class after school one day a week, and a five week academic summer program. With only enough funding to accept 250 students, we had to turn away over 800 students.

Our newest SEO Scholars are part of a NYC SEO Scholars high school cohort of nearly 600 students in grades 9 through 12. 80% of our Scholars are African American and Latino, and 50% are male. Their median family income is below $23,000 and 85% will be the first generation to graduate from college. In addition to our high school Scholars, we serve nearly 350 SEO Scholars attending more than 125 colleges nationwide.

If the stereotype that low income African American and Latino youth don’t care about their education is true, then where do all these students come from? The answer is what we at SEO call the “Missed Middle.” They are not the top students who make it to A Better Chance and Prep for Prep, or to the specialized high schools. Nor are they the students who hover at the precipice of dropping out of high school and are the target of dropout prevention programs. Instead they are the majority of students who come to school every day, despite the obstacles that living in a low income community and attending a high poverty school can present. They are seeking the pathway to college that can lift them and their families out of poverty and into the middle class.

The heart of SEO Scholars’ approach is based on a very elementary principle: If you are behind in a race, you have to run faster to catch up. To help students do this, we built a rigorous secondary school curriculum with detailed lesson plans focused on the core subjects of English and Math. We employ our own part-time faculty to teach on Saturdays, after school and during the summer. In total, SEO Scholars receive more than 720 added hours of rigorous English and math instruction while in high school. We also pair our academic work with psychosocial support and the development of one of the nation’s most effective college support models for low income and first generation students.

Here are some of our results:

We eliminated the racial gap on the SAT. Our African American and Latino students match the performance of White students on the SAT when grouped by high school GPA

  • 100% of SEO Scholars are admitted to four-year colleges
  • None of our students require remediation upon entering college
  • Approximately 80% graduate college in four years and 95% within six years

As SEO’s experience and Census data show, if we push the deficit view of low income students aside, we can transform low income communities by building on the strength of students within those communities. According to the Census, a child born into the lowest income quintile with a bachelor’s degree has an 84% chance of moving out of the lowest quintile and a 19% chance of moving into the top income quintile. Most importantly, their children have a 49% probability of obtaining a college degree, breaking the cycle of generational poverty.

By focusing on the Missed Middle, SEO’s results show a clear path, available now, to significantly reduce poverty in low income communities. That’s Expanding Success!

By Julian Johnson

Share on Social Media