Taking a Chance; Public Boarding School Reaps Great Success

The SEED  School seeks to expand to urban areas around the country

Fifth-grader Giavonna Turner sits anxiously with her family in a crowded school gymnasium. On stage at the front of the room numbered ping pong balls spin around in a metal bingo barrel.

A man in a grey suit calls out numbers one by one as the balls roll out. "16, 2, 22..." Loud cheers erupt after each number, families hug, and tears of joy are shed. Giavonna and her family wait for number 19.

This is not your average bingo night. These students are waiting, hoping to hear their number called in the lottery to be accepted to the SEED School in southeast Washington, D.C. One-hundred seventy applicants are taking a chance on a better education and the opportunity to go to college. Only 40 ultimately will get spots.

SEED is located among some of the worst public schools in the country. Only 33 percent of students in the neighboring wards graduate from high school.

At SEED, 91 percent of ninth graders go on to graduate and 97 percent of graduating seniors are accepted to four-year colleges.

Giavonna learned about SEED when school representatives came to speak at her elementary school.

"She came home and she was so excited. Everything was about SEED," her mother Janella said. "She called me at work and she said 'Mommy please.'"

What's their secret to success? Imagine a world with a level playing field, where children from disadvantaged communities have the same opportunities as their counterparts raised in well-to-do suburbs. That was the vision behind the creation of SEED, the first public boarding school in the country.

"There are 100 things that I took for granted growing up ... that a lot of kids that grow up in economically secure neighborhoods can take for granted," said Eric Adler, who co-founded the SEED Foundation in 1997. "We are providing our students the same opportunities that most of the kids in other neighborhoods just naturally have as an accident of birth."

SEED's Curriculum Teaches Values and Life Lessons

While the school is open to any student in the district, most of the kids come from low-income, high-poverty areas.

"We think that there's a group of kids for whom, if they're going to be successful, they probably need a 24-hour supportive environment that is able to provide support to the educational process around the clock," Adler said.

SEED students are put through a rigorous curriculum and teachers set high expectations.

"We have a specific mission that resonates with families, and that mission is to provide an outstanding intensive academic program that prepares students academically and socially for success in college," director of admissions Mecha Inman said.

Aside from the school day, which is two hours longer than most, at night students receive counseling, tutoring and lessons in various life skills.

"It's a 24-hour program, absolutely," Inman said.

From structured college prep courses to informal discussions on goals or even etiquette, the "hall lessons" make up for many of the skills that students may not be taught at home.

"Everybody has to learn who they are, what they believe in and what their values are, and somebody has to suggest what those values maybe ought to be and how to think about it," Adler said. "If mom is off working two or three jobs and doesn't come until 11, then who are you going to be picking that up from? Are you going to picking it up out on the street corner? Or are you going to be picking that up from adults who are there to provide that stuff."

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