Asbury Park NJ charter school students sample college life – Asbury Park Press

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ASBURY PARK – A public charter school’s Summer Of A Lifetime program sent 121 low-income, predominantly Black and Latino high school students from Asbury Park, Neptune and other parts of New Jersey to elite colleges and universities, including Princeton, Harvard, and Oxford University in England, for free this summer.
Ruby Lopez, 15, is going into her sophomore year of high school at College Achieve Asbury Park and has attended the school for six years.
“I have been brought so many new opportunities that other schools wouldn’t give me,” Lopez said, adding that she went to Colby College in Maine and Princeton University during the summer program.
“Colby was really eye-opening. I never had been away from my parents more than like a day or two, so me being there for two weeks with no one that I knew, except one person, was really something that I never thought I would be able to do,” Lopez said.
Lopez, who plans to study education and psychology, said she also never expected to spend time at a prestigious university like Princeton.
The program was developed by College Achieve Public Schools to give students a feel of what it’s like to be on these campuses, interact with and learn from tenured professors, as well as other college students, and offer access and a sense of belonging.
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While there are a number of reasons why Black and Latino students drop out of college at higher rates than their white peers, feeling excluded and isolated remains a major contributing factor, according to the Hechinger Report.
According to their findings, white students at public colleges are two and a half times more likely to graduate than Black students, and 60% more likely to graduate than Latino students.
Michael Piscal, founder and CEO, opened College Achieve Central in Plainfield in 2015, College Achieve Greater Asbury in 2017 and College Achieve Paterson in 2017.
Currently, in the Asbury Park location, there are 560 students in grades kindergarten to 11, while there are 1,430 students in the Plainfield location, and 1,320 in Paterson.
“It grew from 150 (students) in 2017 to 560 (students) now,” Piscal said of the Asbury Park school.
Piscal started doing Summer Of A Lifetime programs in the 15 charter schools he opened in Los Angeles. He said he kept reading about how many kids are coming from tough neighborhoods, inner cities, and then they go away to college for the first time and struggle because they have been in a very segregated environment.
“Everybody is Black (or) everybody is Latino. Then they get into an environment where 80 to 90% of the students are white and Asian, overwhelmingly white most of the professors. So how do they navigate through that experience,” Piscal said.
Asbury Park Executive Director and Principal Jodi McInerney said one of the toughest challenges the students face during the summer program is homesickness.
“They haven’t been away from home in quite some time due to pandemic, maybe they have been on vacation before or traveled before, but they really haven’t done that over the last couple of years,” McInerney said.
She added that some students have never traveled further than an hour from home.
Matthew Crystian, 14, starting his freshman year this fall, flew to Oxford University in England.
“It was truly really a once in a lifetime experience. It was my first time leaving the country and my first time being on a plane,” Crystian said.
Crystian and his classmates quickly adapted, spending about four hours in class each day, with plenty of spare time to explore the Oxford campus.
“I only knew one other kid going on the trip,” he said. “So, I mainly studied. I took engineering and my minor was criminal justice.”
His mother, Memone Crystian, said that she was glad her son took part in the summer program.
“When they returned, they all stayed in contact and they all said the same thing. That it was a life affirming experience for them,” she said.
Charles Daye is the metro reporter for Asbury Park and Neptune, with a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. @CharlesDayeAPP Contact him: CDaye@gannettnj.com

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