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Foundation Helps Brilliant But Needy Maine East Students Prepare For College, Success

The Schuler Scholars program offers coaching to prepare first-generation or needy kids for selective colleges.

Forty-three Maine East High School students will benefit from the attention of the Schuler Scholars Program next year, according to a report given by Joanne Bertsch, who coordinates the program at Maine East.

The Schuler Scholars are bright students who would be in the first generation of their families to attend college, who would not be able to attend college without financial help, or who have family circumstances that would make it difficult for them to go to college, Bertsch said in a presentation to the Maine Township High School District 207 school board Monday night.

“Our mission is to prepare high-achieving, potentially vulnerable students to achieve success at selective, private universities,” Bertsch said.

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To help them, the program provides three Americorps volunteers to coach them throughout the school year, with weekly 90-minute after-school sessions, two 20-minute in-school tutoring sessions, opportunities to attend cultural events, leadership training and one-on-one college counseling, among other things, Bertsch said.

Selective program takes top grade-earners

To stay in the program, students must maintain a 3.8 grade point average while taking at least three or four honors classes.

Not everyone makes it. Last year, the program had 23 freshmen at Maine East; 17 of them are continuing as sophomores. The incoming freshman class will include 26 Shuler scholars.

Each of the students will go on 20 to 25 college visits, she said, and so far, all of the students who have made it through the program have been admitted to upper-tier private colleges.

Tens of thousands spent on each kid

Over the four years of high school, the program spends $30,000-$35,000 on each student, and then provides $1,000 a year in college scholarships.

That might not sound like much for the private colleges to which the students apply, Bertsch said, but the colleges want Schuler students and have the resources to support them. They also offer smaller class sizes, more interaction with professors and enviable networking opportunities, she said.

“These schools are supporting our kids,” she affirmed.

Shuler family supports the program

Jack Schuler, a former Abbott Labs executive, and his daughter, Tanya Schuler Sharman, launched the Schuler Scholars Program in 2001 with the intention of providing scholarships for students who might not be able to afford college, Bertsch said, but they soon learned that even students who had done well in high school did not always have the skills they needed to succeed in a demanding college environment.

They changed their focus to the high school years. The program started at Waukegan High School; it is now at five Lake County schools. Maine East is the first high school outside of Lake County to be included.

The first students to be Schuler Scholars throughout the four years of high school are now freshmen and sophomores in college, Bertsch said. The program, which has 178 students in college, will follow them throughout their college careers.

District 207 school board members' main question was how to expand the program.

“What can we do to get a school like Maine West involved?” board president Sean Sullivan asked.

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