Charles Leonard likes the quiet of Minnesota. Bryan Gonzalez enjoys the snow, which he doesn’t get at his home near Los Angeles. And then there’s the wildlife.
“We saw a deer in the backyard. I’m not used to that. It was just eating in the backyard,” Leonard, a native New Yorker, said.
Leonard and Gonzalez are two of six teenagers from around the country attending Edina schools through the Edina A Better Chance program.
The national program seeks to connect high-achieving students of color with college preparatory schools so that they have the opportunity to be in an environment that’s conducive to learning, EABC Executive Director Sheila Carrington told the group gathered to hear about the program at the Edina Library on Tuesday, Jan. 22.
The national program began in 1963 in response to President John F. Kennedy’s proposal for access to equal education and Martin Luther King Jr.’s call for equality. The goal is to increase well-educated people of color in the country who can go on to hold leadership positions, Carrington said.
The Edina A Better Chance program began in 1972 and in 2005, became the first ABC chapter in the United States to graduate 100 students from high school. Ninety-nine percent of EABC students have attended college, Carrington said.
Edina High School and South View Middle School are counted among the more than 300 schools in the country participating in ABC, but Edina is only one of two ABC programs in Minnesota. Rochester, Minn., also participates in ABC.
The program is a win-win for the both the students and for society.
“It shows when you bring people together, differences can be overcome and also appreciated,” Carrington said.
The students commit to four years, from freshman year to their senior year, leaving their families and friends behind to live in Edina during the school year.
Carrington said she admires the students and their families who participate in EABC. The parents show their commitment to quality education by sending their children to a community they don’t know. The students show maturity by leaving home for four years for a school that will challenge them, she said.
Gonzalez, a freshman at South View Middle School, is following in the footsteps of his older brother, who participated in EABC and is now attending medical school at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“He showed me ABC can pay off in the future. The four years are going to be tough, but it’ll pay off,” he said.
Leonard’s mother heard about the program from his aunt, who had participated in the program years before. His aunt went on to graduate from the University of North Carolina and is encouraging Leonard, a junior at Edina High School, to consider UNC among his college choices, he said.
Leonard was an eighth grader when his mother learned about ABC and she thought it would be a great chance for him to receive a better education.
“She just wanted the best for me, she always said,” he said.
Students go through a rigorous application process to be accepted into ABC. Students are judged on a case-by-case basis using a variety of measures, including transcripts, recommendations and reference letters. Students choose a few schools that they’re interested in and they have face-to-face interviews that include a tour of the area. The individual ABC chapters then choose students based on the chapter’s needs and how the student will fit in among the already-participating students.
Leonard said he had a great experience while taking a tour of the city, although the cold made him think twice about coming to Minnesota.
While participating in EABC, students focuse on academic achievement, developing leadership and social skills, and preparing for college, Carrington said. They must maintain a “B” or better average to remain in the program. They also have requirements that include having tutoring in the evenings, participating in an extracurriculur activity and taking advanced courses. They also complete community service projects throughout the year.
“Needless to say, the students we bring in are students with a lot of academic potential,” Carrington said.
Leonard played on a football team last fall and Gonzalez is waiting for the Minnesota winter to end so he can play on the baseball team in the spring. Leonard is also looking toward taking Advanced Placement courses during his senior year next year. Gonzalez, who described his school district at home as “not that great,” is finding he really enjoys learning about the government in his ninth grade civics class.
EABC alumni have gone on to some of the most prestigious colleges in the country – Stanford, Brown, New York University and St. Thomas – and have become leaders in their communities as doctors, college professors and chief executive officers.
Leonard said his dream is to complete college and become a successful businessman.
Students live in an ABC-owned house with two residential directors that becomes their home – complete with a dog – during the school year. The EABC downsized from two houses to one house last summer. At its largest, the EABC had 12 students participating.
They also have host families, with whom they stay from noon to 7 p.m. on Sundays. The host families provide a “home away from home” for the students while giving them a chance to see a different side of life in Edina.
Host families become attached to the students and begin considering them part of the family, Carrington said. They take the students on vacation and to the cabin with them, and invite the students to celebrate holidays with them if they’re in Edina. She added that graduation in the spring is a time of a lot of tears as everyone in their support system says good-bye to the 12th graders. In many cases, EABC students stay in touch with their host families long after they’ve graduated.
Leonard counts meeting his host parents for the first time at the EABC picnic as one of his favorite memories so far.
“It was a great time. I just loved it,” he said.
The students and EABC have a lot of support from the community, which is vital, Carrington said.
Staff and students at the middle and high schools have been really welcoming to the EABC students, she said. Edina High School also gives the EABC an office there.
In a national ABC student survey, students listed culture shock as one of the challenges they have to overcome when they begin at their new schools. It’s a shock to see few people who look like them, Carrington said. ABC students also say they have to become accustomed to students’ serious attitude and a lack of behavior problems in the classroom at their new schools.
“Our students love that because they love to learn,” Carrington said.
It’s difficult for students to come into a close-knit community where everyone knows each other. The lack of racial diversity can add to the students’ isolation, but EABC students say that people are friendly and the other students help them learn the ropes at school.
Gonzalez said the biggest challenge he faced when beginning in Edina was the lack of diversity and also the expectation that it was a wealthy community. After participating in EABC for the last four months, he said he’s adjusting to Edina. Leonard said when he first arrived in Edina, he wondered how he was going to survive and fit in. It was a culture shock, he said. But a student said hello to him in his homeroom class and in his first class, another student introduced himself and showed him to his classes that day. The other students have been a big help during his time in Edina and he said he enjoys the comfort Edina offers.
Financial support from the community is also vital. The EABC doesn’t receive funding from either the government or the national ABC program, which is a nonprofit organization, Carrington said. It relies on individual donations, fundraisers, a gala and a golf fundraiser. The Edina Rotary has also been instrumental in helping with the upkeep on the EABC house, she said.
Two upcoming fundraisers are being held for EABC.
The Edina High School Student Council will be holding its annual Edina A Better Chance Fun Run at 10 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 2, at Braemar Golf Course, 6364 John Harris Drive, Edina. The race is $20 and participants can register at bit.ly/EABCfunrun.
Hot Winter Jazz Featuring Delfeayo Marsalis is 7 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 19, at the Dakota Jazz Club, 1010 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis. Tickets are $75 per person and can be reserved at dakotacooks.com or at 612-332-1010. All the proceeds from the tickets will benefit the EABC.
Contact Lisa Kaczke at [email protected]
Edina A Better Chance Fundraisers
Edina A Better Chance Fun Run
When: 10 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 2
Where: Braemar Golf Course, 6364 John Harris Drive, Edina
Hot Winter Jazz Featuring Delfeayo Marsalis
When: 7 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 19
Where: The Dakota Jazz Club, 1010 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis
Reserve seats: dakotacooks.com or 612-332-1010
‘[The program] shows when you bring people together, differences can be overcome and also appreciated.’ -Sheila Carrington, Edina A Better Chance executive director