- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 20, 2005

‘Focus” is a key word when some graduates of the District’s SEED charter school explain how time spent at the boarding school in Anacostia makes a difference in college.

Study habits learned at the city’s only residential public college preparatory school have made all the difference, say four of the school’s 34 graduates to date.

The six-year boarding school, whose initials stand for School(s) for Educational Evolution and Development, was started by the SEED Foundation in 1998 to be a new model for an urban charter school that would prepare students for success in college and life.

Students reside at the school weekdays and some weekends in a structured environment that has seen every member of the first two graduating classes accepted at a college, usually on a scholarship.

The coming holiday has special poignancy for Tim Anderson, 19, a sophomore majoring in marketing at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. He spent last summer waiting tables in Greensboro, N.C., to earn money to help pay off student loans and has not been home since.

He lives in a town house with a roommate and works four evenings a week. He has started a go-go band called HOOD, which he says stands for “having only one drink,” and belongs to an organization of college students who “adopt” a young brother from the community “to try to change the perception of men in the community.”

He went to SEED along with a classmate at the suggestion of a teacher at Bunker Hill Elementary in Northeast.

“She thought [going to SEED] would be the best idea for both of us,” he says. “I needed somebody to work with me. The only tough thing was I love basketball, but that wasn’t respected.”

He credits his stepfather with helping him make it through high school. “The reason I stuck stuff out [in high school] and even graduated was because of my stepfather. My real father wasn’t around.”

Relationships he formed at SEED with adults who pushed him were crucial, he says. “Being around SEED helped me be a people person. I used to have a bad attitude problem. I was on defensive mode and didn’t get along with too many people. The longer I stayed there, the better I got. … They gave me the juice. They did it by checking in with me, giving me the parental cover.

“SEED was high school, and it was very tough, but now I’m dealing with college — longer but fewer classes — and work that is a lot harder, more in-depth. I do it the way I did in school. I do homework between classes.”

His long-term aim is to have his own clothing line because even at SEED he was designing clothes, and he is saving money toward this end.

The school’s site in Southeast was an abandoned public school building until it was acquired by two young management consultants — Eric Adler and Raj Vinnakota — determined to build a new model for an urban public charter school. Ninety-three percent of the students, who are chosen by lottery, are the first in their families to go to college.

“We were confident that if you wrap services around kids 24 hours a day and you support the educational process 24 hours a day, kids will do well,” says Mr. Adler, co-founder and managing director of the SEED Foundation, which is the school’s backbone.

“The aim was to get them into college and be prepared so they would do well and not look statistically like the average African American who goes to college in America and never sees the first day of sophomore year.”

Juanita Patterson, 20, a member of SEED’s first graduating class in 2004, transferred this year from Charleston Southern University, which she attended on loans and grants, to the District’s Southeastern University for what she says were “emotional and financial reasons.” She comes from a family of five siblings, all of whom are at SEED. (The school gives siblings of students a preference ahead of the lottery.)

A biology major who wants to become either an obstetrician or a plastic surgeon, she was the first in her family to go to college and expects to transfer in January to Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, where she will live with an uncle. Her sister Johnita, a 2005 SEED graduate, is at Lesley University in Boston.

She says she was in the debating club at SEED, but “medicine always was a passion. I liked to help people.”

The school was both “negative and positive,” she says. “SEED was more me having to do what I had to do. It helped me to know I had to work extra hard in school. SEED pushed me in the right direction, because I can remember before coming there that when people asked me, I said what I thought everyone wanted me to say. SEED introduced me to different careers by taking us out of town and seeing different people.”

Sophia Echavarria, 19, a 2004 graduate, is a sophomore at Princeton University whose goal is to graduate as an English major and get a teaching certificate “so that I can teach at SEED. I don’t know if they take me seriously, but I’ve enjoyed instructing others from a young age.”

She tries to visit the school whenever she can.

“Clearly I’m having a much different experience from people back home, but I’m not trying to separate myself from them,” she says.

Both her mother and father, who are separated, took some college classes “but definitely not four years.” SEED, she says, “changes the child’s culture and lets them know higher education is possible and you can achieve it. When they believe they can go to college, it is more likely they will. It wasn’t talked about much in my house. It wasn’t until I got to SEED that I had the idea of going on to college.”

Her experience there included an opportunity to spend two weeks in Greece in a special summer program sponsored by the Greek Embassy.

Rashidat Shittu, 18, a recent SEED graduate, attends American University on scholarship, majoring in business administration, and lives in a dorm. She is unusual in having all four of her siblings in college and credits her mother, a hotel manager, with being “persuasive.”

SEED, she notes, “always said don’t let money be the determining factor.” AU didn’t give her money at first “but my [SEED] counselor advised me to appeal, and then I got the maximum grants and benefits.”

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