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Capital Prep Magnet School Seeking To Raise $100,000 For Scholarships

Vanessa De La Torre

December 14, 2011

Just about anyone who watches CNN knows that all seniors at Capital Preparatory Magnet School get accepted to a four-year college.

Principal and founder Steve Perry has promoted the Hartford school in Soledad O'Brien's national "Black In America" series. The story is about university-bound, minority students meeting high expectations, no excuses.

But this year, Perry said, his vision of a meritocracy has taken a serious hit from the skyrocketing cost of tuition.

Out of 30 Capital Prep graduates in 2011, eight are not attending a four-year college, although all received acceptance letters from at least one. Another three are not enrolled in the top school that offered them admission.

Perry blamed college costs that have "spiraled out of control" and plans to use a few of his connections as a CNN education contributor to help raise $100,000 in scholarships for Capital Prep seniors.

"Our kids who have overcome what you see outside this window," said Perry, gesturing to the city's Main Street, "can't outlive their poverty. And when I talk about poverty… we're talking about middle-income families. We're talking about working families."

School officials hope to achieve half of the $100,000 goal with a $50-per-ticket community fundraiser featuring Bill Cosby on January 13 at Capital Prep.

CNN's O'Brien and football Hall of Famer Franco Harris, the former Pittsburgh Steeler who now chairs the Pittsburgh Promise initiative, are scheduled to be special guests for the "Evening With Dr. Cosby," a talk on education.

Capital Prep raised $70,000 last school year with help from an inaugural Cosby event that drew a largely corporate crowd at $150 a ticket. Two graduates who are now freshmen at Morehouse College, Wynton Borders and Khamarr Smith, received scholarships and keep in touch with Perry.

Whoever receives a scholarship is expected to pay it back someday. That could mean financial philanthropy, a career that results in social good, or both.

"We're very against handouts," said Sterling Berliant, Capital Prep's community relations and development director.

Among the 36 seniors in the 2012 graduating class are 17-year-olds Christopher Rosa of Hartford, whose dream school is New York University, and Jenine Nembhard, who lives in East Hartford and wants to be a doctor.

Nembhard gets straight A's, belongs to the National Honor Society, plays soccer and lacrosse, and is on track to be Capital Prep's valedictorian in May. One of her top schools, Amherst College in Massachusetts, charges $53,370 for one year of tuition, room and board — on par with the costs of many private universities.

Rosa, with a 3.6 grade-point average, is a member of the student council and Gay-Straight Alliance, and said he wants to major in political science and history. He is thinking of pursuing politics.

Both students have amassed credits at Capital Community College while in high school, but are set on attending a university. They worry, though, that a financial aid package with federal loans won't be enough to afford tuition; there could still be an annual gap of $10,000 or more. Rosa and Nembhard are raised by single mothers.

Even if the fundraising campaign "sends one person to a school … it's worth it," said Nembhard, who also is applying to Ivy League schools. "That's one more student who didn't have the opportunity."

Perry has told Nembhard to consider the University of Kentucky, too, as one of the colleges that has expressed a particular interest in enrolling Capital Prep graduates.

"If a kid wants to go to a community college, a trade school — if that's what they choose, then we support that," Perry said. "But we're a college preparatory school, essentially for four-year colleges. And for the first time in about 10 years of doing this, the first time in my life… our college selection process is based almost entirely on cost."

Those interested in attending the January event may contact Berliant at 860-695-9876 or visit http://www.capitalprepimpact.com. Donations may be made payable to Capital Prep Scholarship Fund and addressed to Sterling Berliant, Capital Prep Magnet School, 1304 Main Street, Hartford, CT 06103.

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.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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