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Minds Matter: Helping Talented Low Income Students Get into College

Minds Matter

Jazmine Kirkland first learned about the Minds Matter program as a freshman at Cleveland’s Saint Martin De Porres High School. “My counselor told me about it. I applied because I knew I needed help with the college process,” says Kirkland, now a junior.

Today, Kirkland is well on her way to realizing her dream of attending one of the nation’s top colleges. She spent last summer at Johns Hopkins University and this coming summer she’ll be at Harvard. She’s learned the ins and outs of taking the SAT and ACT, and she’s already begun crafting her essay and honing her interview skills.

Kirkland credits Minds Matter for setting her on this path.

“They are here for me to succeed,” she says.

Programs For Low Income Students

Getting into college is hard work for any teen, but particularly daunting for teenagers from low income backgrounds. Simply put, low income students don’t have access to the tools – financial and otherwise – it takes to get into college. In fact, only 50 percent of low income students enroll in college after graduation, compared to 80 percent of their high income peers, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

This is where Minds Matter steps in.

“We work with students who exhibit high potential for academic excellence, but come from lower income backgrounds. Studies show that more than three million students fit this mold, but they fall through the cracks because they are not getting the attention they need,” explains Kevin Stone, the president of the Cleveland chapter for Minds Matter.

The Minds Matter program was founded in New York City in 1991; today, the all-volunteer organization has nine chapters across the United States. The Cleveland chapter started in 2008, and 36 students are currently enrolled in the program. The majority of these students attend Cleveland Municipal Schools.

The program is competitive. This year, more than 80 sophomores will apply for just 24 spots in Cleveland. The typical Minds Matter student has a 3.7 grade point average and a household income of under $20,000. But, Stone says the organization is looking for students with more than just a stellar transcript.

“Not a lot of students have a willingness to come every Saturday and sit here for five or six hours,” he says.

A typical Saturday involves up to three hours of tutoring in the morning. Sessions in the fall focus on math and writing, and sessions in the spring focus on test preparation with volunteers from the Princeton Review. On average, this year, Minds Matter Cleveland students’ scores on the SAT have improved by more than 300 points.

Low Income Students Can Get To College

“It’s to try to give the kids everything they might not get in school. We can’t be a school away from school, but we can provide some additional benefits and support,” says Franklin Lebo, the dean of academic affairs for the Cleveland chapter.

In the afternoons, the students meet with mentors, and this is the heart and soul of the program. Minds Matter assigns two mentors to every student. Mentors are typically young professionals who help guide their students in all things college-related until the student graduates. For sophomores and juniors, this means helping them get into prestigious summer programs; for seniors, it means everything from picking colleges and filling out applications to working on interviewing techniques and slogging through financial aid forms.

And then, of course, there’s waiting for the envelopes (or, these days, emails).

“My student just got into Miami University of Ohio,” says Stone, with an ear-to-ear smile. “I am so psyched.”

Mentors and students form close bonds, “sort of like a big brother or big sister,” explains Randi Gross, a mentor and also the vice president of public relations for the Cleveland chapter.

Since its founding, 100 percent of Minds Matter graduates have gone on to college, including the Cleveland chapter, whose first class graduates this spring.

“We can say we achieved what we set out to do three years ago,” Stone says.

For Kirkland and her fellow Minds Matter participants, the future is certainly bright. But, notes Lebo, there are many more students to go.

“The truth is that Cleveland has a lot of talent. There are a lot of smart kids that deserve great things, and we wish we could serve them all.”

Interested in volunteering with Minds Matter? Learn more at www.mindsmattercleveland.org

Diana Simeon

Diana Simeon is an editorial consultant for Your Teen.