Two Programs Fuel College Dreams for Immigrant or Low-Income Students

Gene Miller is not picking on towns like Needham when she notes that high school students in wealthy suburbs benefit from having parents who know the ins and outs of the college admissions process.


Compare that to students in Chelsea, where many first-generation immigrants have parents who may have never heard of the SATs, let alone a costly prep class to boost standardized test scores. Many parents work two jobs and don’t have the time off -or the car– needed to make visits to college campuses hundreds of miles from home.


Recognizing the uneven playing field that exists, an innovative nonprofit called FUEL, Families United in Educational Leadership, is working hard to make college a reality for students in Chelsea and beyond. “What we are trying to do is eliminate the obstacles and give low-income kids from places like Chelsea the same access to opportunities that kids get in Needham,” explains Miller, chief operating officer for FUEL.


FUEL requires family involvement. Parents must participate in monthly meetings, which cover everything from financial-aid forms to how to network and how to draft a budget. The families hear from college admissions officials, guidance counselors and even college students to gain valuable insider information.


Families also agree to put aside $25 a month, beginning when children are freshmen, which FUEL will match for a total of $3,000 upon high school graduation.


FUEL was formed and launched in Chelsea, and has since expanded into Boston neighborhoods, targeting low-income Latino, Haitian and Chinese immigrant families. Today there are 400 families in the program, with more than 60 participants enrolled in college, including Rochester Institute of Technology, Williams College, College of the Holy Cross and Wesleyan University.


FUEL ( has also developed partnerships with UMass Amherst, UMass Boston, Salem State University and Bunker Hill Community College to offer 40 full scholarships each year to students in Chelsea.


‘SAT Angels’ to the Rescue

“Big things come in small packages” could be a fitting motto for Graph It Forward Today (GIFT), another local nonprofit. This one provides free graphing calculators to low-income high school students to help them perform better on their SATs.


Created by Laura Wilson, founder and president of Wilson Prep, the initiative gives students access to free online tutoring, gently used study guidebooks and one-on-one mentors.


Last year, the organization helped 1,600 students across the country with its online tutoring program and gave out 206 calculators. Next year, the goal is to reach 1,800 students.


The GIFT program is offered through several nonprofits in Boston, including the after-school enrichment centers funded by The Steppingstone Foundation. There, students can log onto computers to receive daily prep tutoring that their families might otherwise not be able to afford and earn a free graphing calculator, which can make a real difference on test scores, says Elliott.

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Susan Flynn is associate editor of the Boston Parents Paper.

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