“When you go to college, when you’re ready to go to college, there will be funds to pay for your tuition,” Pollin told the surprised fifth graders, their families and teachers, who had been assembled in the school’s combination cafeteria and auditorium and told to expect an announcement.
Said Cohen: “We will work with you to see that you graduate. Upon your graduation, funds will be made available to you.”
First came a silence. Then parents either cried or sat as stunned as their children when they realized that the increasing cost of education could be taken off their list of worries. Then the applause and tears began.
The Seat Pleasant program is the second to be announced in the Washington area. Falls Church multimillionaire George Kettle is sponsor for a seventh-grade class at Winston Educational Center in Southeast D.C.
And two more such programs, perhaps one in the District, are expected to be announced at area schools in the near future, said Eugene Lang, the Manhattan industrialist who six years ago began the first I Have a Dream program to pay for college costs. He declined to name the schools, saying negotiations may not be complete. He said he preferred that the sponsors announce the new programs.
With investment interest and possible future donations, the Seat Pleasant fund is expected to be about $650,000 seven years from now, when it will be used by the students.
One parent who cried after yesterday’s announcement was Theresa Smith, who sat in a blue suit in the fifth row. Smith has been raising her son, William, 11, and her little brother by herself since her mother died more than 10 years ago.
“I was praying, asking the Lord to send me a way to get him to college,” said Smith, a secretary at the Department of Defense. “On my own, I do the best I can to raise them. This is a blessing.”
“I wanted to scream,” said William, who wants to be a lawyer. His claps were among the loudest when the news sank in.
Rose Robinson, who lives in Capitol Heights, couldn’t stop crying.
“It’s hard to describe. I feel so happy,” she said, her arms around her son, Darone, 11. “I have a 20-year-old daughter going to college in New York. And it’s a struggle. I save change to buy her things like shampoo or personables.”
The fifth graders who are now Dreamers illustrate the economic problems of the area. More than three-quarters get free lunches; a quarter receive food stamps and more than half are latch-key children.
But their above-average scores on the California Achievement Test show they can achieve.