Innovative Path to College for Schenectady High Students

$100,000 grant awarded to Smart Scholars

SmartScholar Justice Calo and teacher Mr. Guyer

The Schenectady Foundation awarded a $100,000 grant to the Schenectady Smart Scholars Early College program, an exciting initiative that improves learning outcomes for at-risk students while they also earn college credit.

The ambitious program is aimed at Schenectady High School students who face significant barriers -- such as poverty, low academic achievement, and limited supports -- to school success.

“It is our privilege to be an investor in Smart Scholars and an investor in all of you who have dreams and aspirations you want to follow,” said Robert Carreau, Executive Director of TSF, speaking at a reception to welcome the newest class of Smart Scholars. “We believe in you, and in your families – your parents and siblings – who are behind you. We want you to know that as a community, we are supportive you too.”

The year-round program, which began in 2010 with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, gives students comprehensive academic and social/emotional support services. Smart Scholars is jointly located at Schenectady County Community College (SCCC) and Schenectady High School (SHS). Students enter the program in 9th grade and are enrolled in SHS and at the same time they are enrolled in college-level classes at SCCC.

“When I started in Smart Scholars at the end of eighth grade, I was really immature and didn’t know how my grades really affected me,” said junior Justice Calo, pictured above with business teacher Mr. Guyer. “I understand now that what I do in class is important and I shouldn’t waste my time. All of my teachers talk to me about what I need to be doing. My guidance counselor talks to me about what’s important, and what my goals are. I want to be a doctor. I know it’s going to take a long time, but I know I can do it.”

“The kids have to have a strong level of commitment to participate,” said Lori Lebel, 9th grade English teacher and 9th Grade Smart Scholars Team Leader. “The students need the supports, but they want to do it. They are willing to stay after school and do what it takes to succeed. They want to go to college and have a career, not just a job. They understand that this program will set them ahead.”

“It keeps you very focused,” said Elvis Ghirdharie,  a sophomore interested in a career in  engineering or technology. “The teachers keep you pointed in the right direction and show you how to get where you want to go.”

Smart Scholars receive instruction in a location separate from the larger high school in a small learning community, with their own teachers, Team Leader, schedule and curriculum plans.  During their junior and senior years, they take classes at SCCC where they gain not only college credit, but also valuable exposure to a college campus and to the college experience.

Just beginning its third year, 150 freshmen recently entered the program, joining the 196 Smart Scholars who are now sophomores and juniors. Freshmen take a one-credit study skills course during the summer.

The Schenectady Foundation grant will be used to provide programs to support the students in their studies and activities during the summer as well as to provide more services during the school year. “The TSF grant will allow us to further expand this program to allow for more one-on-one tutoring, more workshops and field trips and expanded summer sessions,” said SCCC President Quintin Bullock. “It is a win-win for this tremendous program and the Schenectady Community.”