Early one chilly mid-April morning, a dozen high school sophomores and juniors—all from the inner city—gathered in front of Syracuse University’s Lubin House in New York City. Along with three adult chaperons, they waited for a bus that would take them nearly 300 miles upstate, further from their homes than many of them had ever been. Their journey would give them a glimpse of what their lives might be like in two or three years, a life that could take them far from the streets of Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island, or even lower Manhattan, where they attend the High School for Leadership and Public Service (HSLAPS). This unique New York City public school is in a special partnership with Syracuse University that began in 1993. Now, thanks to a program backed, in part, by the Friends of HSLAPS, an SU alumni group based in New York City, the students could venture into the alien world of college, a world that some had never before even dreamed about.
Traveling with the students was Ann Gilligan, an HSLAPS teacher who serves as the liaison between Syracuse University and the high school. “We were driving up there and it started to rain lightly,” Gilligan recalls, as she sits at a round table near the door of her spacious yet sparse office on the sixth floor of the downtown building that houses HSLAPS. “As we got closer, we looked out the window, and one of the kids said, ‘Is that snow on the side of the road?’ It was, and it kept snowing until we arrived in Syracuse.”
A fitting welcome to upstate New York. But these students were undaunted, perhaps because it was an adventure they had prepared for during the previous weeks—or at least they thought so. They had, for instance, seen photographs of the University. “Everything looked so close,” says Leslie Stewart, an HSLAPS sophomore with a special interest in journalism. “But when we got there we saw how spread out it was.”
And there were other surprises, in large part because, photographs or not, the students had little idea of what to expect, and even a detailed itinerary didn’t offer much help. “One student,” Gilligan says, “couldn’t understand the half-hour time allocation for the bookstore. ‘How are we going to spend so much time in a bookstore?’ he asked. But once he got there, he bought everything in sight. If it had an ‘SU’ on it, he bought it.”
The trip made such an impression on the students that the next day, on the bus trip home, one girl asked to borrow another girl’s cell phone. “She called her parents,” Gilligan says, “to find out how much money they had in the bank. She said, ‘It costs $30,000 a year to go to Syracuse and I just want to make sure you have it covered.’”
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