Students find A Better Chance in Wilton

Sometimes, life deals a hand that is considered tough, or unfair.

Those circumstances should not keep them from getting a good education, or having the opportunity to reach any goal that they strive for.

In short, they deserve a better chance, which happens to be the name of an organization dedicated to changing the lives of students in grades 6-12.

The organization began in 1963, with the goal of “changing the life trajectory for academically talented youth of color via access to rigorous and prestigious educational opportunities,” according to its website.

Participating schools are broken out into day schools that are independent, and boarding schools, both independent and in community school programs. Additionally, there are affiliated colleges that participate in A Better Chance.

“We get our applications from ABC National in New York City,” said John Klein, president of A Better Chance of Wilton. “They get approximately 2000 from eighth graders each year and then do a selection process of their own before distributing them to nearly 310 high school program affiliates.

“These affiliates are largely private day schools and boarding schools. Twenty-one of them are Community Supported Programs like Wilton’s. Three of them, Wilton being one of them, have both a boy’s and a girl’s house.”

Now in its 16th year, ABC of Wilton has seen all 35 of its seniors graduate from Wilton High School. In addition, every ABC graduate from Wilton has gone on to college. Approximately 120 volunteers assist as host families, college coaches, mentors, and counselors, along with driving the students to and from school and activities.

A committee reviews the applications that are sent to Wilton from the national office.

“Our objective was to add two boys and two girls,” Mr. Klein said. “We had a committee of five looking at boys’ applications and five looking at girls’ applications. Since this is an academic program first, we look at their middle school performance, their SAT scores, we read essays submitted and we review submitted recommendations. If the candidates were in a feeder program, we talk to staff members of that program to get impressions.”

He noted that special attention is given to sports and other activities, as Wilton High School has a broad list of options for students to choose from.

“We need to keep these things in mind to assure ourselves that our scholars will be effective contributors to the high school and the community at large,” he said.

After selecting what the committee feels are good candidates, they are invited to visit Wilton to see the school and spend the night with current ABC students. Interviews are also conducted by resident directors and the committee.

“The ABC program is very much a community effort,” he said. “To begin with, the program has a 30-person working board, with each person chairing a committee that handles a key function such as scholar selection, fundraising, house maintenance, personnel, college coaching and host families.

“Not only are a lot of people directly involved in the program but many, many more are involved in supporting the program financially. One dedicated supporter was even clever and kind enough to have donations made to ABC in lieu of receiving birthday presents.”

The students are housed in two homes — the girls live on Godfrey Place, and the boys live on Cannon Road. Each house includes a residence director and a cook. The residence director serves as the surrogate parent.

When not in school, the students participate in sports, clubs and other activities, and essentially try to live the life of a normal student. They may go to the prom, hold a part-time job, and socialize as well.

A host family has the students visit every Sunday, and one full weekend per month. The students — or scholars — also go back to their own families during school vacations and at the holidays. Liaisons in ABC of Wilton keep the family informed as to the progress of their child.

“That’s the kind of passionate support the program gets when people see how hard our scholars work to make the most of the opportunity our town has given them,” Mr. Klein said