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A boost at O'Bryant High

THE DISTRICTWIDE effort to transform Boston's large high schools into smaller learning centers with individual themes such as business or social justice is fully underway. But the most promising initiative may turn out to be the Gateway program, an import from New York City with a solid record of preparing minority students for careers in science, medicine, and technology.

The underrepresentation of minorities in scientific fields has been documented thoroughly. Many of the efforts designed to increase participation suffer high rates of academic attrition. But the Gateway to Higher Education program, founded in 1986, has shown consistent success in preparing selected students in 14 New York City high schools for advanced placement courses in science. And students are building strong futures on that bedrock: Two-thirds of the roughly 2,500 Gateway graduates are pursuing careers in science, including 100 who are attending medical school or already practicing.

Boston's Gateway proposal will be linked with the John D. O'Bryant School of Mathematics and Science, an exam school for grades 7-12 in Roxbury that operates in the shadow of the city's more highly regarded Latin schools. Dr. Howard Hiatt, a Gateway board member and former dean of the Harvard School of Public Health, has presented the School Department with a plan to enroll 50 O'Bryant seventh-graders in a Gateway program, possibly in the fall. Students and faculty chosen for the program would adopt the accelerated Gateway strategy, which typically involves a longer school day, after-school tutorials, and science-based internships.

Putting such a program in place would be especially timely given an upcoming accreditation report expected to reveal academic weaknesses at O'Bryant requiring the attention of both the School Department and outside partners. Meeting the $350,000 annual cost of the four-year program will depend on securing funds from charitable foundations. But the Gateway proposal is already attracting potential supporters with clout in the city's academic and medical circles.

There is every reason to believe that the Gateway program will be as successful here as in New York City. O'Bryant draws bright, motivated students. About 90 percent of them are minorities, and nearly 60 percent live in low-income households. O'Bryant's new headmaster, Joel Stembridge, is committed to elevating educational offerings.

Too many educational enrichment programs look great on paper but fail to provide long-term advancement. The trusted Gateway program should provide Boston students a chance not only to get a foot in the door of great colleges but the skills to forge ahead.

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