The first program of its kind at the CUNY senior colleges, BC Bound is providing opportunities to overlooked and underserved student populations.

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BC Bound Provides Hopeful Trajectory for a New Group of Students

Jan. 17, 2014

Freshman Sasecie Bernard is grateful for the opportunity to prove her academic prowess and use what she learns to help others.

Sasecie Bernard has a dream. A recent immigrant from Jamaica, Bernard, who lives in Brooklyn with her mother, wants to develop her artistic talents in a way that is useful to the well-being of others.

"My goal is to help people, especially children. I intend to double major in art and psychology and pursue a career in art therapy," she says.

It was not always clear how she might be able to achieve her goal. When she first arrived in the United States in October 2012, she was a graduate from a high school in Jamaica. But when she attempted to enroll in college, she was informed that she required remedial coursework that would put her more than three years behind schedule. Rather than register in an American high school at the ninth-grade level, Bernard instead decided to sign up for a General Educational Development (GED) course. Shortly afterward, she took the required exam and passed.

There was still the matter of getting into college. With recent changes to admission standards at the City University of New York (CUNY), students who receive GEDs often are not able to get into the senior institutions. Bernard applied to Brooklyn College—because, she says, she wanted not just an education, but a good education—and was accepted thanks to a new gateway program called BC Bound.

The brainchild of Sharona Levy, Percy Ellis Sutton SEEK professor, the BC Bound program provides a path to college education for GED students who may have initially not been considered for admission.

"It seemed clear that with the right type of supported first-year program that uses national and local best practices, students should be able to succeed," Levy says of the program, the first of its kind at CUNY senior colleges and one of the few around the country. "And if they aren't able to have a successful semester for whatever reason, the program helps them find a better place to continue their higher education career in the hopes that they can still succeed and perhaps come back to Brooklyn College at a later stage."

In 2013 the program accepted 30 students, including Bernard.

"We designed it to give them a rigorous try out," Levy said. "If they're motivated, we can get them to where they need to go. They just have to put in the work."

Currently, students applying to the program must have a cumulative GED score of at least 2,700—and have achieved a minimum score of 500 in the English and 500 in the math portions of the exam. They must also be interviewed in person. Once admitted, they attend a four-day orientation. They also agree to attend classes on a full-time basis—making them eligible for financial aid—meet regularly with academic advisers, and show up for tutoring sessions. And they are held to the same academic standards as any other Brooklyn College student.

Focus and persistence are two things sophomore Juma McCurren says are required for a successful college career.

Penelope Terry, director of undergraduate admissions and recruitment, is responsible for reviewing each application and identifying candidates who meet the program's criteria. "We admit a cross-section of students from every demographic," she says. "These students broaden notions of who we might imagine GED students to be. What unites them is their determination and self-motivation."

Sophomore Juma McCurren is a prime example. Faced with a devastating personal loss, McCurren dropped out of high school so that he could work full-time and help support his family. He had intended to return to school once his family was economically stable, but other personal obstacles prevented that from happening. It would be years before he could finally obtain his GED. But even then, he found himself coming up against roadblocks.

"I wanted to, finally, pursue college," McCurren says. "At an open house for prospective students at a community college, I was asked what year I received my high school diploma, and, when I disclosed that I had a GED, there was a pregnant pause by the interviewer, followed by, ‘Oh, you didn't graduate.' I doubt that she intended to insult me, but I was filled with the same kind of shame that hindered me for so many years because I didn't finish school when I was still a teenager."

Initially, McCurren was not accepted to Brooklyn College. He then reapplied through the BC Bound program.

"The work is challenging and completely fulfilling. I'm excited to see where I'll go from here, says McCurren, who has not decided on a major, but describes himself as a closet writer and is looking into the college's creative writing program

Professor Sharona Levy (center) and the students and faculty of BC Bound with the "I Have a Dream" quilt they created to honor both the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. and their own aspirations.

Funded by the CUNY Black Male Initiative (BMI), BC Bound takes a holistic approach to helping students achieve. Students in the program are part of "learning communities" designed to foster camaraderie among the participants and facilitate acclimation to college life by ensuring that the students take some of their courses together, and participate as a group in other co-curricular and extracurricular events. These communities also allow faculty and program interns to work closely with the students and provide individualized attention.

With programs like BC Bound, Brooklyn College, which has its own GED course housed under the Adult Literacy Program, is keeping pace with national trends indicating that students who receive access to these types of resources are far more likely to complete their undergraduate work and obtain baccalaureate degrees.

"From my experience, the reason many students are not able to complete high school has little to do with their academic prowess," says Richard Vento, director of the Brooklyn College Learning Center who provides academic guidance and support to students in the program. "BC Bound provides a select group of persistent students with an opportunity to reach their full academic potential and change the course their lives forever."

Professor Levy says that the program has helped build the college's connection to the surrounding community and hopes that the program gains traction beyond Brooklyn College.

"I have received calls from other schools as well as local politicians who share my excitement," she says.

One of those politicians is Reverend and Assemblyman Karim Camara, who represents the 43rd assembly district in Brooklyn.

"Historically, CUNY has always played a role in educating the children of New York," says Camara. "BMI is quite significant and helps ensure and protect access and equity for black and Hispanic young men entering the CUNY system. Transformative academic programs like BMI and BC Bound endeavor to reaffirm CUNY's historic commitment to all of our communities for a quality college education—an indispensable asset in the 21st century. I commend CUNY Senior Vice Chancellor Jay Hershenson and Elliott Dawes for devoting resources to maintain these programs."

Levy believes this is just the beginning of out-of-the-box approaches to the admissions process, student mentorship, and successful outcomes. Bernard and McCurren are but two of those outcomes: Bernard's lowest grade was a B in her first semester and McCurren is averaging an A-.

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