Press Room Headlines
Downstate students strive for a higher education in Clinton - Clinton Pennysaver
October 16, 2008
By Lisa Kapps
In his maroon “Clinton Football” T-shirt, Richard Nwarike Onyejuruwa, Jr., 17, doesn’t stand out among the members of Clinton High School’s senior class.
But unlike his classmates, Richard lived most of his life in the Bronx. He’s one of eight teenage boys – two in each high-school grade level – who are part of A Better Chance, or ABC, a nationwide program designed to increase the number of minority students going to college. Students like Richard leave the inner-city – and their parents, family and friends – to attend a suburban school in the hopes of increasing their chances of attending college.
Richard said he is able to see the benefit of the program when he goes home and sees the difference between his peers and himself. “You mature much more quickly when you’re in this program,” agreed Matthew Morrobel, a 17-year-old senior from the Bronx.
Richard and the other ABC participants live in a converted fraternity house, the ABC House, on the Hamilton College campus. Ed Gudlauski, the resident director of the ABC House, says the whole story is in the name: “Basically, this is ‘A Better Chance.’ It is what it stands for,” he said.
Gudlauski said the program offers three things: increased safety, higher level academics and the opportunity to observe and participate in a different lifestyle.
“Also, graduating from Clinton High School gives them … a better chance at higher education,” Mary Humphrey, a board member of the ABC house, agreed. In fact, Gudlauski said, every student who has lived in ABC House in its 37-year history has gone on to college.
Some of the boys even called the ABC program itself preparation for college – by teaching them how to make friends, live with others and balance time for schoolwork, laundry and, of course, fun.
Kevin Ho, a 16-year-old junior from Manhattan described the living situation as “chaos.”
“You get here and you learn that you don’t have nearly as much personal space,” said Jelani Anthony, a 16-year-old junior originally from the Bronx. “You learn to share – let’s call it share by default.”
But the location of ABC House has benefits said Jeremy Wattles, an AmeriCorps Vista worker who functions as the resident assistant. The boys have access both to the firstclass facilities and learning opportunities at Hamilton. For example, Wattles said they are trying to get the boys tickets for an upcoming visit by Daily Show host Jon Stewart.
John Manning, 18, of Yonkers, is a freshman at Utica College. He is a graduate of the Clinton ABC program. Manning said he applied for the program because, “the schools back home were cutting various programs (like) sports and music;” programs that he enjoyed.
The ABC program application process is similar to the college application process, including an entrance exam, a one-on-one interview and a visit. The boys share host families, who they visit on alternate weekends. Spending time with the host family allows the students to experience community life.
For Richard, living in Upstate New York has brought many firsts – his first time eating apple pie and, though he does not know how to swim, his first time kayaking in the Adirondacks.
“They encourage you to do new things,” Richard said. The boys described friendliness as a quality they appreciate about Upstate New York.
Morrobel said he has “500 friends” at Clinton High School. “It was the way people accepted you,” Richard said. And though the boys said there are times when they feel homesick, they’re motivated to stick with it; they came to Clinton, as Richard said, “to beat the system or cycle.”
“Your parents send you up here for a reason,” Morrobel said.
And for Richard, there’s a familiar face at ABC House: his 15-year-old brother Benjamin, who’s a sophomore.
“Nothing changed,” Benjamin said of moving from home into the ABC House.
“To me, it was kind of fun. For him to get an opportunity to see what I see, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime,” Richard said.
In fact, Benjamin said he sees all of the boys in the ABC House as his brothers. “All of us have each other’s back. We all have each other’s back no matter what,” he said.
And that feeling of family makes ABC House seem like home.
“At this point, Clinton is my first home,” Morrobel said.
A Better Chance
253 West 35th Street, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10001
Phone (646) 346-1310, Fax (646) 346-1311