College Offer Still Inspires

By Marc Fisher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 8, 1988; 12:00 AM

The Dreamers' first year is reality. One year after a Virginia millionaire came to Southeast Washington to promise 60 sixth graders a free college education, concrete change has come to the children of Good Hope Hill.

Tracie Drayton won a citywide essay contest writing about her career goals. Lavonne Abney got to go to New York City, see the Rockettes, see streets so busy she could hardly believe it. Tanzia Jones and her friends have decided they all will go to Winston-Salem State University together.

Fifteen of the 16 seventh graders on the honor roll at Winston Educational Center are Dreamers. But students are not the only ones to benefit from the college guarantee program. Parents have changed their ways. Theresa Green, a delicatessen clerk who has reared her daughter alone, now has the luxury to save money not for college, but for whatever else her child may need.

And George Kettle, the Falls Church man who committed $325,000 of his real estate fortune to providing the Winston children with six years of extra attention and four years of college, has kept busy too. His I Have A Dream Foundation has lined up three more wealthy men to set up college guarantees for classes in the Washington area, according to foundation director Mary Janney.

The foundation won't identify the men yet, but says that two D.C. schools and one suburban school will be the beneficiaries beginning this fall.

But despite the rush of activity since Kettle made his dramatic announcement at a school meeting last June, the Dreamers, as the children have been urged to call themselves, have five long years to go.

Five years is a very long time in a neighborhood where drug dealers do their dirty work on the perimeter of the schoolyard. It is a long period in which to expect 60 children -- some of whom live in decrepit housing projects, many of whom get their best meals at school -- to resist the distractions and lures of the illicit street life.

Winston is a school where about half the students are eligible for subsidized meals. For many families, Kettle's offer is the first realistic chance for anyone in their family to go to college.

So although the teachers are pushing the students, and some parents are heeding admonitions to keep their children's eyes on their homework, Brian Smith faces a long and difficult task.

Smith is the on-site coordinator for the foundation. From his cinder-block cubicle on Winston's first floor, he arranges special trips, Saturday science classes and summer enrichment programs designed to boost the Dreamers' achievement levels. He calls parents when grades slip. He visits with students to see how they're doing. He keeps in close contact with teachers to find out how volunteer tutors can help.

And still, some Dreamers are in another world. Some are flunking.

Four Dreamers were suspended sometime this year for fighting or disrupting classes. Some are chronic attendance problems. Some have parents who do not grasp what this opportunity means. And some, to the surprise of foundation officials, continue to leave.

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© 1988 The Washington Post Company