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F-M ABC: Benefits are a two-way street

Shynice Stiff's first day at Fayetteville-Manlius High School was lonely.

"I remember the first day of school, all the Eagle Hill kids sat on one side of the room. All the Wellwood kids sat on the other. And little old me sat in the middle, all by myself," she said, laughing.

That day was more than three years ago. Stiff had just moved into the ABC House -- a residence for girls in the A Better Chance program, a national organization whose mission is to increase educational opportunities for young people of color. After a rigorous application process, chosen scholars leave their inner-city public schools for a better education at a participating private or high-end public school. The F-M chapter, which is the only chapter in New York besides a boys' chapter in Clinton, is celebrating its 35th anniversary this week.

Stiff made a lot of friends her freshman year, so the divided room didn't last long. But the ABC girls still tend to stand out.

"Our high school is fairly not diverse," said Jim Chupaila, principal of F-M High School. About 90 percent of the district's students are white. The ABC program gives the students a chance to interact with people of a different race, he said.

"They come from a different cultural experience," he said. "These young ladies for the most part come out of an urban environment and that's totally different from living here in Fayetteville-Manlius As they spend their time here and make friends with a broader number of kids over the years, they're able to share their experiences and our kids get a better understanding of what the rest of the world is like."

Chupaila listed the ABC House under the "positive connectedness and civic engagement" part of his building action plan presentation to the board of education Monday. He explained later that he views giving educational opportunities to the girls a civic responsibility.

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