SAT camp offers pay to study for exam

Coppin State course gives city youths $5.25 an hour

July 03, 2004|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

Some high school students will be paid $5.25 an hour to attend an SAT prep course at Coppin State University this summer, the latest step in the school's attempt to reach out to the neighborhoods around the West Baltimore campus.

Fifty students will get breakfast, lunch, bus passes and three hours a day of SAT coaching for two weeks this month. The students, most from nearby high schools, will be paid at the end of the course.

A handful of school districts nationwide have paid their students to take such courses. Educational experts say the practice is rare, and only a few Maryland schools offer their students similar incentives. Coppin's SAT camp, being paid for with a federal grant administered by the state, is the only program of its kind in Baltimore, officials said.

Some say that paying students to take part in required academic classes or tests could be troublesome, but that Coppin's SAT incentive program might be a good strategy.

"Since this is a voluntary program, the students must want to be there, and the money probably helps. ... I wouldn't be surprised if this program is effective," said Kathleen Porter-Magee, associate research director at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a Washington nonprofit group that studies education reform.

Since Stanley F. Battle became president of Coppin nearly 18 months ago, the school has been looking for ways to revitalize surrounding neighborhoods. The university is sponsoring a study of poverty and crime in the area, and Battle is trying to open a boarding school on campus.

The college came up with the idea for the SAT camp, then applied for the funding. Battle said the program is important because many area students don't have the money to pay for such courses, which can cost more than $1,000. "Their parents don't have a lot of money," Battle said.

The median family income around Coppin is $24,682, about 20 percent less than the city average. During an orientation meeting with parents and students this week, Coppin officials emphasized that high SAT scores could lead to scholarships and grants.

"It could be the difference between getting a full ride: tuition, room and board, a book stipend, a laptop. That's between $10,000 and $15,000 that doesn't come out of your pocket," said Jacqueline Williams, Coppin's associate director of admissions.

After the course, participants and their parents will meet with Coppin employees six times next school year to discuss the students' academic progress.

Although school officials told the crowd several times that they hoped the students would attend Coppin, Battle said: "I don't care where they go to school, just as long as they go."

Coppin officials warned students that the course would be demanding and that behavior would be strictly monitored. Students who are late or absent more than twice will be expelled from the program. They are not allowed to wear low-cut blouses or T-shirts with references to drugs or violence.

Many students who attended the meeting said they have had a hard time finding summer jobs and were excited about the money - $157.50 at the end of the two-week course. Some said the chance to improve their SAT scores was more important.

"I don't even care about the money," said James Brown, a junior at Walbrook High School. "I just want to get better and go to college."

Some education experts said the payment could make a difference to students. "If we ask them to go to a summer program, we ask them to give up wages, and that's a hard thing to do," said Paula Fitzwater, director of the Office of Grants for the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

"It's not much that we can offer," Battle said, "but it sends a clear message about how serious we are."

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