Bird singing as the sun rises. A babbling brook. The laughter of an young child. All sweet sounds, music to the ears. But cowbells? Yes, at Boston Prep, we would add cowbells to this list. In fact, cowbells may be the sweetest sound of all.
Every Boston Prep student rings a cowbell twice in their senior year of high school. Each time they ring the cowbell, they do so to share good news and to initiate a community-wide celebration of their achievement. The first time, they ring a cowbell to celebrate the submission of their final college application. The second time, they ring the cowbell to alert their peers and teachers that they've received the news they have been long awaiting - they have been accepted to college.
This year, Boston Prep's first two college acceptances came hand-in-hand in late November. Two seniors, Joel and Jailena, were both accepted to Denison University, a small liberal arts college in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, as Posse Scholars. While Boston Prep has graduated Posse Scholars in the past, this is the first year in which two seniors have been chosen for the highly selective program.
The Posse Foundation was founded in 1989 to support public school students "with extraordinary academic and leadership potential who may be overlooked by traditional college selection processes." Students are selected from target cities, including Boston, and matched to participating colleges in multicultural teams of ten - Posses - who can serve as a support network in the new, unfamiliar, often overwhelming college environment. Joel and Jailena were, surprisingly, both matched to Denison University and are together two out of the ten Boston Posse members who will be matriculating there this fall. In addition to the support provided by their peer network, Posse also provides four-year, full tuition scholarships to all selected students.
Joel, determined to be the first in his family to graduate college, sees education as his family's way out of daily struggle and poor living conditions. In his college essay, he reflected on the environment of his youth. "I rode my bike cautiously through the dirty, big, red brick building where trash covers every corner and rusted weapons casually lie in the blood-stained corridor. The sounds of heated arguments could be heard through the thin walls separating apartments, and the faces of miserable, poor Black and Latino people succumbing to the to spell of drugs and alcohol was widespread. This was life in the projects."
Joel looks forward to the change life in the suburbs at Denison will bring. He plans to study biology and hopes to play baseball, his one escape from the stress of academics. While Joel could have had many choices for college, the more he learned about Denison, the more he became sure in his heart that Denison was "the one, the right place" for him. He also was drawn to the benefits offered by Posse - from the financial security to knowing that he'll have a set of peers around him to help push him to grow, to expand beyond his comfort zone. While he does not yet know what he wants to do professionally after graduating college, he does know his ultimate goal - to provide a stable, warm home and financial security for his mother and grandmother and to show others like him that success is possible.
Jailena bubbles enthusiasm wherever she goes, and her excitement about college is palpable. While she too is looking forward to the change life in suburban Ohio will bring, she also knows it will be a big change, probably bigger than she can even anticipate. And with a major in psychology with a concentration in neuroscience, there are sure to be some challenges. However, she's grateful she will have her Posse - and particularly Joel - around her to support her through the transition. In fact, it is that sense of support and community that compelled Jailena to accept her offer from Denison.
Out of everything Jailena appreciates about Boston Prep, it is the sense of belonging she values most. She found this not only in her classes but through sports. "Over the years my father and brothers may have been too busy to attend, however, there hasn’t been a single game where I have felt alone because my family has always been right beside me all along. My family is those I play with. Joining a team meant joining a family." When she watched the online campus tour of Denison, the tour guide was effusive. Her love for the school was contagious, and one of the things she spoke about most was community. She shared that 98% of students live on campus, and the small size of the school makes it feel like a family. It was then that Jailena knew this was the place for her. Jailena looks forward to becoming part of the Denison family this fall.
While both Joel and Jailena are incredibly grateful for the Posse Foundation's supports, they also are thankful that they will continue to have Boston Prep behind them, every step of the way, thanks to the Persistence Project. While the support of a Posse is great, Jailena notes that one cannot underestimate the power of support from people who have known her for the past seven years, people who know her in and out and can remind her of where she came from. Joel, with his eye on improving life for others like him, likes the data-driven nature of the Persistence Project. He appreciates knowing that every time he provides Boston Prep data on his performance in college, it is helping the school learn and improve so that those coming after him can continue to benefit from stronger programs that will help them, too, make their dreams a reality.