Find Your United Way Donate
United Way Blog

An Opportunity can Change a Life

Blog submitted by Ayeola Fortune for UW LIVE UNITED blog 

"It was the summer after sixth grade at PS 20 in Brooklyn, New York that I was given an opportunity that changed the trajectory of my life." - Ayeola Fortune

It was the summer after sixth grade at PS 20 in Brooklyn, New York that I was given an opportunity that changed the trajectory of my life.  That summer I started a program called Prep for Prep, started by Gary Simon in New York to give young, gifted, low-income elementary students of color an opportunity to attend some of the most prestigious private schools in New York City.  The 14-month combined summer and afterschool program accelerated learning so that we would enter our new schools in 7th grade better prepared for the rigors of a college preparatory curriculum, which, in my case, was significantly more challenging than the education I had been afforded in my neighborhood elementary  school.  At “Prep”, I met students who also thought learning was cool, and I was challenged more than I had ever been academically. 

I graduated early from the program, and went to Poly Prep in Bay Ridge just two months later in the fall of 1983.  After six years of middle and high school, I graduated from Poly Prep fully prepared for college.  When I look at turning points in my life, the summer of 1983 made all the difference for me.  I had fun. I met students from all across the city. I worked hard and was I both engaged and challenged.  That summer opened the door to a school that I would never have had the opportunity to attend otherwise.  Today I think about the many students who currently do not have access to these kinds of opportunities that expose them to new ideas and people, help them to cultivate new skills, explore possible career interests, pursue a passion, or get the additional academic support they may need.

We know that participation in high-quality afterschool and summer learning opportunities can help increase in student performance on standardized achievement tests; improve work-study habits and homework completion rates; strengthen engagement and school connectedness; increase self-esteem; improve relationships with peers and adults; and reduce negative, risk-taking behavior.  These outcomes can improve overall student achievement, which is critical to increasing graduation rates and the number of students that graduate prepared for college or career. Educators, policymakers, researchers, funders, the business community, and practitioners across the country should work together to ensure that we increase access and quality of out-of-school time programs as an essential support to student learning and development.

A new publication, Expanding Minds and Opportunities: Leveraging the Power Of Afterschool and Summer Learning for Student Success features more than 70 articles, including one featuring United Ways, which explores the role that programs can play to support achievement; examines the impact of high-quality programs; discusses the opportunity programs present as a mechanism for engaging families; and looks at the importance of creating school-community partnerships and state and national infrastructure to sustain these efforts.  To learn more, visit: http://www.expandinglearning.org/expandingminds

Blog submitted by Ayeola Fortune for UW LIVE UNITED blog