Oct 30, 2012 Ned Campbell Uncategorized
La Rae Martin-Coore is more than an example for the girls of Fayetteville-Manlius High School’s A Better Chance program.
“I’m like a living blueprint of what they’re trying to do,” said Martin-Coore, who came on as the girls’ resident director this fall. A Better Chance is a national, non-profit, academic talent search organization that seeks to increase the number of well-educated young people of color ready to assume positions of responsibility and leadership. F-M’s program, which is community funded, is one of two in the state and was started in 1974.
The seven girls live in a 200-year-old house in the village of Manlius with Martin-Coore and her husband, Zaire, and their son, Jalen, 9, who attends Enders Road Elementary.
“I’m here with my husband and my son, so we’re showing them the family atmosphere,” she said.
Martin-Coore also works as the academic coordinator for Le Moyne College’s Upward Bound program, which, like F-M ABC, is aimed at preparing high school students for college and beyond.
“I’ve been working with students for over 15 years,” she said. “It’s a calling and it’s a passion of mine to see high school students, and especially girls, succeed, and I like the fact that I can be an example of what they are trying to do.”
Martin-Coore, a Syracuse native, went to Nottingham High School before earning her bachelor’s degree from Oswego State University and a master’s from Le Moyne. She said she was fortunate to come from a home where not going to college wasn’t an option.
“I had family who set the bar,” she said. “‘You have to go to college.’ I’ve always heard that, I’ve always known that.”
She said the girls in the program — many of which come from neighborhoods in the Bronx and Brooklyn — are often first generation college students, so they might need that extra push.
“If your parents have never done something like this, they don’t know how to guide you,” she said. “You come to a place like the ABC program, we’re going to put you in a position to be successful.”
Ninety-nine percent of the girls in the program nationally go on to enroll in college, according to fmabetterchance.org. The girls who attend F-M have gone on to graduate from prestigious universities such as Yale, Harvard, Colgate and Cornell, Martin-Coore said. F-M ABC helps give them the vision, and the tools, to get there.
“Many of them came here because they know that the schools that they would’ve gone to would be lacking — lacking books, lacking teachers, lacking funding — but when you come to a place like Manlius, that’s the top,” she said.
The atmosphere of F-M ABC prepares them for college as well. Martin-Coore said the girls have to do their own laundry and are given an allowance each week, so they have to learn how to stick to a budget. And much like college, they’re living away from home for four years. They go home during Thanksgiving and Christmas break, as well as for summer vacation.
“They’re learning those things that a lot of high school students don’t necessarily learn at that age, so they’ll be well prepared when they go to college,” she said.
The process of earning a spot in the program — which includes submitting transcripts and recommendations, being interviewed by the board of directors and visiting the high school “campus” — is similar to applying for college, she said, which also gives them an advantage. According to Erica Rube, chair of the F-M program’s board of the directors, 2,5000 girls apply for the program nationally and only 10 percent are selected.
“The girls also get assistance in SAT prep and with the college application process,” Martin-Coore said. “The ABC program carries them all the way through.”
Janai Fraser, of Harlem, is a senior in the program, and has high aspirations for life after high school. She hopes to attend the University of Virginia and major in pre-med.
“To get to the south. That’s the primary goal,” she joked. “I’m tired of being in the north. There’s never any sun!”
Alex Johnson, also of Harlem, is a sophomore in the program. She runs indoor track at F-M, and looks forward to doing hurdles, and maybe even high jump, on the track team this spring. Running is just one opportunity she wouldn’t have had at the Catholic school in Washington Heights where she would have gone if she hadn’t been accepted into F-M ABC.
“If I were to go to school in New York City I wouldn’t have been able to go out for sports teams,” she said. The school I went to, they only had a basketball team and volleyball. I’m not a good basketball player.”
Tanaja Stephenson, of Brooklyn, is a freshman at F-M. She said she is grateful to F-M ABC because without it, she wouldn’t be going to a school where education is strongly valued by the students.
“I feel like in New York City, students don’t take their education seriously, at least in most schools,” she said. “I feel like here I’m getting a better chance at that.”
As a freshman, she’s new to the area, and she admits adjusting to the suburban scene — compared to The Big Apple — hasn’t been easy.
“I would like it more if there was some things to do here,” she said. “I feel like it’s kind of boring at times.”
“It’s nothing but trees,” Johnson said, laughing.
But the girls have each other, and that makes adjusting to the suburbs not all that bad.
“I feel like it’s kind of boring at times, but then with the girls in the house, that’s fun,” Stephenson said.
They also benefit from F-M ABC group trips to various events and activities, including Syracuse Stage performances, apple picking, horseback riding and outings to the mall.
But when it comes down to it, they’re here for one thing— to get a better chance at learning than they would’ve had at home.
“The educational experience, it wouldn’t have been the same,” Johnson said. “At the end of the day, that’s what we’re here for.”
Ned Campbell can be reached at email@example.com.