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'Summer Search' Program Cultivates Qualities To Enable Students To Graduate From College

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With college enrollment rates up, education officials and advocates say the next challenge is getting more students to actually earn a college degree, and according to one program, hiking boots could be part of the solution. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.

At the Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice, a group of juniors and seniors tells a group of skeptical sophomores that running three miles, putting on a six-pound backpack and spending weeks living in the wilderness can help prepare them to graduate from college.

"In order for you to do something, it takes more than just how smart you are," said student Kathya Marte. "It's how much hard work you're going to be able to put for things, and these trips is a lot of hard work."

Marte described one summer of canoeing, hiking and rock climbing in Minnesota.

"It was difficult because I was the only minority student," she said.

The next summer, she went to Ghana.

"I did a four-week home stay program," she said. "I was living with a family, and I also was working at an orphanage for three weeks."

It's all part of Summer Search, a program that works with more than 300 city students from 18 high schools, most in the South Bronx.

The goal is to cultivate qualities that allow students to become first in their families to graduate from college, which it believes has less to do with intelligence and more to do with grit, perseverance and problem solving.

Summer Search accepts 10th graders and sticks with them into college.

"The five-year investment is about $30,000 per student, so it's trying to provide all sorts of resources that typically affluent students have access to that students who are growing up in undeserved communities don't have access to," said Karina Saltman of Summer Search NYC. "Somebody who's accountable to their success for many years. Somebody who's guiding them through the college process."

Self-discovery begins with the application.

"There's like a 45-minute to hour, maybe more, long interview," said one student. "Yeah, people cry in their interviews. During that interview, you learn so much about yourself. You think you're just going in for them to get to know you. It's not. You get to know yourself."

One surprising discovery for Marte was that she loves being in the woods. She's now applying early decision to one of the most prestigious colleges in the country, Bowdoin in Maine, a place that she said she wouldn't have considered if she hadn't left the Bronx and gotten in a canoe.

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