The quandary facing the 3. 4 million high-achieving lower-income students is that,
at every step of the educational process,
they face significant obstacles to continuing their high levels of achievement.
They have the ability to excel in college
and achieve the highest levels of success
in their chosen fields, but they are less
likely to have the social and financial
resources necessary to get there. That
these facts are so little known has helped
to perpetuate a general public attitude
that these students either do not exist in
appreciable numbers or are continuing
to succeed in their current environments.
The problem is dire in the inner city,
where obstacles to students reaching
their potential include limited life experiences, a lack of books and insufficient
the achievement trap. As the study’s
exposure to books, and a lack of both
Nearly half the low-income students who rank
accessible libraries and stimulating
summer experiences. Unstable families, in the top quarter of their class in reading in
incarceration, threats of violence, and
the lure of the streets abound. Less
1st grade fall out of that rank by 5th grade.
academically rich conversation and
vocabulary characterize many home
environments, and the lack of consis-
Supporting Our Young Scholars
sition to selective high schools, we have
tency in language and behavior between At Gesu School, a K– 8 independent
learned something about lifting up stu-
school and home often creates chal-
Catholic school in Philadelphia, at
dents who show exceptional promise.
lenges for students.
which 75 percent of our 460 students
By setting high expectations and pro-
These obstacles persist and often
come from low-income families, we’re
viding advanced instruction at even
worsen in the higher grades, leading
attacking this problem through our
younger ages, we believed we could
to serious problems by high school:
Youngest Scholars program. We provide hook talented students on learning and
47 percent of high schoolers in U.S.
remedial instruction to many students
give them the boost they needed.
cities drop out. The average graduation who read at least two years below grade
In spring 2008, our principal, Ellen
rate of the 50 largest U.S. cities is well
level, but we also address the needs
Convey, identified 24 students in 3rd
below the national average, and there
of our higher-achieving students. This
through 5th grade whom their teachers
is an 18 percentage point gap between
hands-on, cross-curricular program
considered very bright and who met the
graduation rates in suburban schools
challenges high-ability, low-income
criteria of low household income and
and those in large urban schools. 2 So in students to develop such 21st century
the highest scores in their class on the
a sense, every year is a transition year
skills as critical thinking, team building, Terra Nova achievement test. Colleen
for low-income youth trying to maintain research, leadership, and public
top achievement. Although policy-
speaking through a specially themed
Comey, a special education teacher at
Gesu, created a theme-based curriculum
makers are making efforts to reverse
summer session and enrichment oppor- using flexible groups that would explore
poor achievement among low-income
students, they are doing little to support
high achievement in that same group.
tunities during the school year.
content in more depth than we found
Having operated programs to prepare possible in the regular classroom.
high-achieving middle schoolers to tran-
The pilot program debuted that