“If we catch them now before they get disenchanted with high school, we have a better chance to increase the graduation rate and help students set realistic goals,” says Loretta Hollomon, vice principal at Thomas Jefferson High School in the Rochester City School District. “For many of our students, they see only what’s in their backyards and what they see doesn’t equal success.”
In order to help retention rates and offer ninth grade Jefferson High students a first-hand look at the college experience, Rochester Institute of Technology and the accounting firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers have formed a pilot program that will continue through the end of the academic year.
A total of 25 Jefferson High students will be offered opportunities to attend a leadership conference, tours of the campus, and meet RIT students and faculty from the E. Philip Saunders College of Business and PwC business professionals who will lead several workshops in the fields of business and accounting.
“RIT has had a relationship with Jefferson Middle School for the past 15 years with a career counseling program for seventh and eighth graders, and when it became a high school in 2007, we began working with older students,” says Alfreda Brown, interim chief diversity officer at RIT. “With this new program I have three goals: The first is to increase the percentage of these ninth grade students to graduate from high school; it mirrors the goal we have for freshman students at RIT—to persist and graduate.
“The second is to introduce ninth graders to life on the college campus and helping to make academic areas like math, science, business and leadership skills something they want to pursue; make it fun so that they stay motivated. And the third goal is to assess, monitor and track these students when they graduate from Jefferson High—whether they get a job, go to a vocational school, or decide to enter college.
“We want to know what happens to them. If they come to RIT, that’s wonderful—it’s what we’d really like to have happen.”
According to Chandra Wilson, manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers, the firm sponsored the program as a means of “giving back” and getting more involved with the community.
“The number of minorities going into the accounting profession is low; we wanted to increase the awareness and opportunities within the profession as well as help develop potential future candidates,” Wilson says. “We want to be positive role models—build leadership skills of youths participating in the program and increase their awareness of who we are and what we do.”
Hollomon agrees with Wilson’s assessment “that minorities are misrepresented,” and believes the pilot program will offer Jefferson students more opportunities beyond high school graduation.
“They need hope, they need to feel a sense of self esteem, they need to know there are opportunities out there for everyone. This effort offers them a better outlook on the whole college experience.”