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Hartford Public School Student To Attend Westminster For Free

JODIE MOZDZER

April 13, 2009

Kimberly Pope has been to high schools in third-world countries, on Native American reservations and in some of the most dangerous cities in America, looking to pluck a select few students and drop them at the prestigious Westminster School in Simsbury.

Pope is Westminster's coordinator for the Davis Scholar program, a well-funded experiment in what can happen when disadvantaged students with potential are given a free education at an expensive boarding school. Five schools in New England participate in the program, which is paid for through the Shelby Cullom Davis Charitable Fund.

Pope scoured the globe for deserving students last year. This year Pope found one candidate within 15 miles of her doorstep.

Javier Vargas, 17, an honors student at Hartford Public High School who is known for his feats in the swimming pool and on the baseball diamond, will attend Westminster for free next year, along with three other Davis Scholars Harsimran Kaur from Naugatuck, Ngoc Nguyen from Vietnam, and Ousseynou Tall from New York City. Pope seeks out most candidates, but some, like Vargas, are referred to Pope after they apply to the school.

Westminster charges about $42,900 a year for boarding students and about $31,700 for day students.

Pope said the scholarship recipients have as positive an impact on Westminster as the school has on them, because they bring life experience that differs wildly from most of the students.

In Vargas' case, she didn't have to look farther than Hartford.

Vargas said he avoided the gangs and drugs that so many other Hartford youths get caught up in. But the streets called to his younger siblings, prompting his mother to pick up and move to Windsor this year. Even then, Vargas was drawn back to Hartford to finish high school where he started.

He tried living with friends at first, but ended up moving to Windsor with his family. Now he catches a Connecticut Transit bus at 6:30 each morning to make it to Hartford Public each day by 7:20 a.m.

"What's really important about Javie is his character, and his story," said Todd Eckerson, a teacher at Westminster who runs an academic program at Hartford Public High School. "He grew up in the meanest of Hartford streets, and he's overcome."

Pope called Vargas a "curious learner" with a "firmness of conviction." Eckerson said Vargas was "a straight arrow, law-and-order kind of guy."

"He doesn't like the chaos that so many kids thrive on at Hartford High," Eckerson said. "He's really looking for a place where it's OK to work hard and study."

Vargas joined Eckerson's club, Crossroads Cooperative Learning Program, as a freshman. The club encourages Hartford students to consider a post-graduate year at a preparatory school to get ready for college, and Eckerson has helped about 20 other city students apply for and get into area prep schools.

Vargas is a senior this year, and will complete a post-graduate year at Westminster. He first visited the campus as a freshman, when he played baseball there.

"It was beautiful," Vargas said. "It was like a little dream. I never thought I would go there."

After graduating from Westminster, Vargas and the other scholars can continue to receive scholarship money if they are accepted to one of more than 90 colleges connected to the Davis Fund including Harvard, Yale and Princeton.

At a minimum, the Davis Scholars receive up to $10,000 a year each year for college, according to information on the Davis United World Scholar Program's website.

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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