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Now boarding: Students looking for ‘A Better Chance’

Rhonda Crowder | 4/25/2014, 3:55 p.m.
“A Better Chance has opened so many doors for my children. They have equipped them with the best educational opportunities ...

Ever wanted to send your child to an independent day or boarding school but felt overwhelmed by the admission process or price tag? Well, one long running program works to make attending such prestigious institutions easier and accessible to all students.

Celebrating its 50th Anniversary, A Better Chance is a national non-profit organization with a mission to substantially increase the number of well-educated students of color capable of assuming position of responsibility and leadership in American society. Working with a network of 300-plus independent boarding and day schools, they help place students entering grades 6 through 11 into some of the nation’s finest college preparatory schools.

“We are a support system to help navigate the independent school process,” said Regina Jolly Espenschied, A Better Chance Midwest region program manager.

Currently seeking students from the Cleveland area, A Better Chance is open to 4th through 9th graders of any income range. A Better Chance does not cover the cost of tuition but does help families’ complete forms for financial aid. Depending on the family’s economic situation, some families pay something out of pocket. Some do not.

However, schools do waive application and entrance exam fees for A Better Chance participants.

A Better Chance offers a variety of support programs for participants such as leadership development workshops as well as college tours and career readiness workshops.

“We really just want families to be aware of their choices,” said Espenschied.

A Better Chance is funded through grants, corporate support and alumni. More than 13,000 students have benefited from the A Better Chance experience to date. They have achieved success in many professions, making significant contributions to every walk of life. Alumni include Massachusetts Governor Duvall Patrick, who graduated from Milton Academy, and singer Tracy Chapman to name a few.

Cleveland native Charlise Lyles, who grow up in King Kennedy projects and attended Kennard Junior High School during the early 1970s, is an A Better Chance alum. She learned about the program through her junior high school guidance counselor, Mr. White.

Through her participation, Lyles attended Hawkin Upper School in Gates Mills for grades 10 through 12. “It was daunting to say the least. I had a lot of challenges academically,” she said. “It was a moment of truth.”

Having graduated from Hawkin, as well as Smith College, then becoming a renowned journalist and author, it would be safe to say that Lyles overcame the challenges. She credits her biology teacher from Kennard, Mrs. Moore. Moore allowed Lyles to live in her home. “She encouraged me. She only required homework and studying of me. With her cheerleading, I made it through,” Lyles said.

At Hawkin, while enjoying literature class and keeping journals to record her experiences, Lyles discovered she wanted to be a writer. Mrs. Moore even arranged for her to meet Maya Angelou in person. “That single most experience… I owe a debt of gratitude to Mrs. Moore.”

Because of the opportunity, Lyles spent much of her career as a journalist.

“Going to Hawkin cleared the path so that college became a real destination,” Lyles said.