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Program helps Newark students envision themselves in college

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Students at People’s Preparatory Charter School in Newark are getting on buses to visit different colleges and universities in the tri-state area. It’s something they do a couple times a year.

“My brother, he didn’t go to college, so I want to be the first one to go to college out of my family,” said ninth grader Kahleeah Murphy.

Murphy says living in Newark isn’t always easy, but nothing will stop her from becoming a lawyer.

“They have a lot of shootings and stuff but you know you have to go to college and get out of Newark so you can help your family out and get out of the bad areas,” said Murphy.

Only 19 percent of people living in Newark have a college degree. That’s 26 percent less than the average in the state.

“We have some cohorts of new students coming into the school that are reading on an average of a fourth grade level when they’re starting at ninth grade. So the situation can be quite dire,” said Nathan Patton, a teacher chaperoning the group.

The school’s founder and co-director Jessica Rooney says that’s why they want to get students into the college mindset as early as ninth grade.

“They can start to see what colleges look like, how do they smell like, how do they feel, do I fit in here? The kinds of questions that you can ask yourself at a really young age if your mom or dad went to Columbia and you’re going to football games from the time you’re six years old and you start to feel like, ‘I fit in there.’ Well, our kids don’t have access to that same opportunity, so we have to create that for them,” said Rooney.

The strategy seems to be working.

“At first, I didn’t want to go because I thought college was going to be really hard and a waste of money and a waste of time, but then I changed my thoughts and everything,” said ninth grader Ozeria Vines.

Vines says one of these college visits inspired her to go for her dream of going to school one day to become a nurse.

Her classmate Caleb Johnson says he plans on becoming a forensic scientist like his uncle.

“I want to grow and get an education, so that I can’t be in these streets, that I can go somewhere in my future,” said Johnson.

While on the tour, Murphy envisioned herself playing basketball in college.

“I like it because you can study and you can play,” she said. “They said they had scholarships, so if I get a Division I scholarship then I can come here.”

It looks like Saint Peter’s University is going to make her list.