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An Extra Week Of College Prep

About Half Of Magnet School's Seniors Ready Applications At Summer Program

August 27, 2006
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer

About half of the Greater Hartford Classical Magnet School's 40 seniors gave up a week of vacation. One of their teachers, John Hill, cut short his own vacation.

All for college applications.

Every day last week, the students were in the school's library working on college essays, reviewing for the SATs, listening to presentations from college admissions officers and planning group trips to college campuses.

"It's just another opportunity," said Raymond Fraser, 17, of Hartford.

Fraser said that writing his essay gets him all charged up because he's writing about the person who inspires him most. "The number one hero of my life is my father because of his life growing up and how hard it was."

In Jamaica, where Fraser's father grew up, his family was too poor to pay tuition for school, so his father taught himself to read as well as how to be a carpenter and a mason.

"If I can see how my dad got through all that stuff, then I know I can get into the college of my choice," Fraser said. "I can be very successful."

For students attending Classical Magnet, on Woodland Street in Hartford, college is the ultimate goal. In the spring, the school had its first graduation, with 21 of the 22 students graduating going on to four-year colleges, said Tim Sullivan, the school's principal. All students study Latin and read the classics.

The school starts in sixth grade, and every child in the school tours at least two college campuses a year. The older kids will visit as many as nine campuses in a variety of states. The school will spend $20,000 on campus visits before the year is out, Sullivan said.

Spending a week before school focusing on college plans is designed to help seniors begin formulating their final year game plans.

Hill, who was helping students with their essays, gave them a pep talk before they even wrote a word. There's no such thing as writer's block, he said, anticipating the inevitable moment when the students would freeze up while writing their essays.

The thing to do when ideas don't seem to be flowing, he said, is to just keep writing and see what flows.

"Deadlines are a writer's best friend," he said.

When the students finally set pen to paper, they realized they had plenty to say.

Amra Rustemovic left war-torn Bosnia when she was 10, and the transition was painful for her. She said leaving family behind caused her the greatest sense of loss. "I was mad and sad and angry," she said. "I've never known half of my cousins."

But Rustemovic didn't choose to write about her experience as a refugee in Hartford. She said she talks about it so much and it's such a big part of her everyday life that she wasn't sure anyone would find it interesting.

Instead, she wrote about how each year she realizes a bit more deeply how much there is to know in the world, and what little command she has of all that knowledge.

Jillian Cunningham, a Classical Magnet senior who was teamed up with Rustemovic, was reflecting on her tour of Europe on a Wise Scholarship that she received for her knowledge of history. She began her essay with a whimsical reflection on how she learned that store clerks in London weren't inquiring about her weight when they asked her for pounds at the cash register.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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