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Against the Odds, Senior Helps Others Get to College

Five years ago, as Alesandra Sandin ’07 was finishing up her last year of high school, she thought of a program that would improve the chances for high school students from the country’s poorest areas to go to college.

Busy juggling her own college applications and final-year coursework, Sandin realized it would be difficult to launch such a program for even one year. Many of those with whom she talked about the idea doubted she could pull it off at all.

They were wrong.

On Nov. 16, during a ceremony at her alma mater, Hanover High School in New Hampshire, Sandin proudly addressed participants in the program’s fifth year.

“Continue working hard and recognize the difference in yourself so you can make a difference in others,” she told teens from New York City and Dorchester, Mass.

Dubbed WISH (Winter Infusion SEAD in Hanover), Sandin’s program is an extension of a Dartmouth College summer program that brings poor students who demonstrate academic promise to Hanover for a few weeks.

SEAD program participants take a breather

Sandin worked for the Dartmouth College program, called Summer Enrichment at Dartmouth (SEAD), before her senior year, and loved the experience. But she recognized that students in the SEAD program needed to return to Hanover during the academic year to reconnect to a support system and friends that they had made during the summer.

The mid-year experience of WISH provides an “infusion” of support for SEAD participants, says Sandin, who return to communities and schools that don’t typically provide the same level of support available in the Dartmouth programs.

“I saw this only happening for a year,” recalls Sandin. “At 17, how could I apply to colleges, finish high school and set up a program that would last?”

Getting her idea off the ground was daunting enough, but when directors of SEAD did not support her idea, it became much more difficult, said Sandin. Taking inspiration from Jonathan Kozol’s award-winning book Savage Inequalities, about disparities in America’s educational system, Sandin said the experience of being turned down “made me want to do it even more.”

Sandin estimated the cost of getting the students to Hanover and back to their communities would amount to $5,000. To avoid food and housing costs while they were in town, Sandin planned to recruit families in her high school to host the students.

Still, the funding was a hurdle -- until a single phone call changed everything.

From the Hanover High School Guidance Office, Sandin phoned a local resident, whom she knew to be wealthy. She described her idea and predicament, and asked the woman for the funding she needed. When she received her answer on the phone, everyone in the office heard as Sandin began screaming. She had received a pledge of $10,000 each year for five years.

Of the students who attended her program that first year, two are now at Dartmouth, and another at Pennsylvania State University. Dartmouth College now requires the SEAD students to attend WISH. And students at Hanover High School have organized the program each year since Sandin graduated.

Standing on stage at her alma mater on Nov. 16, Sandin faced the students who completed the program in its fifth year.

“You have brought me back,” she told them. “Everyone here knows how important you are.”

11/17/06   By Kristen Cole
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