Press Room Headlines
From inner city to elite boarding school - Connecticut Post
Thursday, April 23, 2009 12:20 AM
By Linda Conner Lambeck
On the evening before the first day of classes at Hotchkiss School in Lakeville this fall, after shaking hands with the headmaster, Joshue Guevara, of Bridgeport, will record his name and hometown into one of two leatherbound books, as is a custom at the 118-year-old boarding school.
In the same books, the names of car maker Henry Ford II, former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent, Time magazine founder Henry Luce and actress Allison Janney can be found.
"I have mixed feelings," said the quiet 14-year-old, who takes measured breaths between sentences. "I really love my parents and my sisters and my brother. It really is hard to say goodbye for the time being, but I am excited. Boarding schools are really good schools. It will help me prepare for college. Once I go to college, I'll have to be living on my own."
Guevara is the son of El Salvadoran immigrants who moved to Elizabeth Street in Bridgeport after escaping a 2004 fire in Stamford that destroyed their second-floor apartment and everything they owned.
It's not a story Guevara readily shares and wasn't mentioned on his boarding school applications.
He'd rather focus on the future.
"I feel I earned it and was a bit lucky," he said of his unlikely path.
After moving to Bridgeport, Guevara attended Hall School. A sixth-grade teacher encouraged his mom to enter a lottery to get Joshue into Park City Prep, a publicly funded charter middle school. She did and his name was drawn for one of the few open slots in the seventh grade.
There, Headmaster Bruce Ravage recognized an uncommon intelligence and took Guevara under his wing.
"Present the boy with a challenge and he rises to the occasion. He has a thirst for knowledge and a desire to be the best he can," Ravage said.
Ravage is confident Guevara will find his niche at Hotchkiss.
Although he favors math, science and computers, Guevara is strong in just about every subject. He is one of eight members of his class to work with A Better Chance, a group that helps pave the way for underprivileged scholars to attend the nation's most elite private secondary schools. They studied for and took the Secondary School Admission Test;
Guevara is the first this year to get an offer of admission, on a full scholarship. Hotchkiss tuition tops $40,000 a year.
Isabella Trauttmansdorff, program manager for A Better Chance, noticed in Guevara a young man with the fire in his belly to do the work.
"It is going to be an adjustment academically" at Hotchkiss, she said. "Once he gets past that, he will thrive. He has shown himself to be academically talented. This will give him a chance to find peers who are like him."
"His application was so fundamentally sound," said Patricia Johnson, associate dean of admissions and coordinator of multi-cultural recruitment at Hotchkiss. "He's quiet. We know he will be quiet and still persevere."
In addition to being smart, Guevara had geography on his side.
"I was going to take two boys from the Boys Club of New York, then said, 'Maybe I can take one from the Boys Club and one from Bridgeport,' " said Johnson. The school has not had many students from Bridgeport.
Trauttmansdorff wrote an impassioned plea to Johnson on behalf of Guevara, calling him a quiet genius.
"If there is any one child for whom this will be ultimately life changing, it would be Joshue," Trauttmansdorff wrote. "He is a very quiet serious kid, but education means a world and more to this family."
Flor Guevara, his mom, is both nervous and excited for her son. "We want a better education for him," she said.
She and her husband came to America 17 years ago. Flor quit school in the ninth grade. Her husband, Marcel, left in the sixth grade and now works as a chef in Stamford. Their elder son, Marcel Jr., still lives in El Salvador. Daughter Christina, 16, is a junior at Bullard-Havens Technical High School. Seven-year-old Jessica -- or Sophia as family members call her -- is the baby of the family and in second grade at Tisdale School.
The Guevara kids stick close to home. Christina likes graphic design and writes poetry. Joshue likes to read and do computer games after homework. A large papier mache model of Tikal, an ancient Mayan temple he helped build in school, commands a corner of his basement bedroom. The family's idea of an outing is to go to work with dad on Sundays and help out in the restaurant.
At first, Flor Guevara said no to the idea of a boarding school. Joshue convinced his parents to let him try.
The most Joshue time has spent away from home is two months in El Salvador with his brother and a week in Boston at a National Youth Leaders State Conference, he said, where he worked on public speaking skills and group dynamics.
"I know when I say that it doesn't sound fun or anything, but it was actually a lot of fun," Joshue said.
He admits to being nervous about Hotchkiss, an 810-acre campus in the northwestern corner of the state. He wonders what happens if he gets sick, how often he can go home and how secure the campus is. Sometimes, on the street he lives now, there are fights that make him feel unsafe.
Johnson tells parents that boarding school may sound like forever, but it is only 31 out of 52 weeks of the year.
At Hotchkiss, Guevara will be one of about 100 other "preps" -- or freshmen -- culled from more than 1,500 applicants and 317 who received acceptance letters this spring. The campus has two lakes, 12 Steinway pianos, a hockey rink and four telescopes surrounded by a forest. There are classes in molecular biology and genetics. Half of the student body plays an instrument. Guevara played the trombone when he went to Hall.
"I'm hoping to study as much as I can in all subjects," he said.
Forced to describe himself, Guevara sighs: "I suppose I'm intelligent. I don't try to flaunt it."
A Better Chance
253 West 35th Street, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10001
Phone (646) 346-1310, Fax (646) 346-1311