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EDUCATION REPORT - Helping Poor Students Go to College - 2004-07-28

Broadcast: July 29, 2004

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English Education Report.

More than twenty years ago, a successful American businessman made a promise to a group of twelve-year-old students in New York City. Eugene Lang said he would pay the college costs for each student who stayed in high school and graduated. He urged the students to dream about their futures. And he promised to do all he could to help them reach their goals.

The sixty-one students all came from families who were extremely poor. And Eugene Lang quickly realized that they needed more help than he alone could provide. So he hired a social worker and others to provide the students with services and support they would need. He called the effort the “I Have A Dream” program.

Since then, the “I Have A Dream Foundation” has expanded to include more than thirteen-thousand students in twenty-seven states. Eugene Lang received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work helping young Americans who could not pay for a college education.

Eugene Lang also wanted other successful Americans to provide similar help to poor students. One of these is George Weiss. In nineteeen-eighty-seven, he made the same promise to one-hundred-twelve young students in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Only twenty students from that group graduated from college. But Mister Weiss did not stop. He has started four similar programs in the past seventeen years. He calls his program “Say Yes To Education.”

Now, Mister Weiss is beginning another such program for four-hundred students in five schools in New York City. The students are only five years old. Mister Weiss is providing twenty-million dollars for the effort. He is trying to get businesses to provide thirty-million dollars more. The twenty-million dollars will pay for the students’ college costs. The other money is needed to pay for help that will increase the chances that these children will finish high school. This help includes a reading teacher and social worker for each school, and extra summer and after-school programs.

Mister Weiss says he has learned that poor families have many problems that block their children from higher education. And he says all his programs have been successful because they are helping young people become productive citizens.

This VOA Special English Education Report was written by Nancy Steinbach. This is Steve Ember.