For many of the ten children who stepped off the bus and gazed up at the ornate College buildings, it was the first time they had ever been outside of Maryland.
This was their first major introduction to higher education?and perhaps a beginning of a long journey within it.
They are the students of the Bowdoin Bound program.
Bowdoin Bound is a non-profit charitable organization formed with Brehms Lane Elementary School in Baltimore, Maryland, and philanthropists to introduce inner-city elementary school students to high-caliber higher educational institutions.
The idea of Bowdoin Bound was “born on the baseball diamond,” said Dan Spears ’81, who was once active in the local alumni organization.
Spears, now president of the organization, was talking to his son’s baseball coach. The coach, Ed Cozzolino, is the president of Brehms Lane Elementary School, which is 99 percent African American.
Cozzolino and Spears discussed the state of education and ways to improve it.
“I would talk about Bowdoin’s efforts to increase diversity in the student body so that the campus would be more of a reflection of the world we live in today,” Spears said.
Spears also noted that it was difficult for him and Bowdoin’s Director of Multicultural Recruitment Erby Mitchell to convince upperclassmen at Baltimore’s high schools to embrace the educational opportunities offered by a liberal arts college in Maine. The Bowdoin team had reached them too late.
“Most could not fathom life beyond their ‘corner’ in Baltimore because no one had ever told them when they were in elementary or middle school that there was a plethora of educational opportunities that existed outside of their comfort zone, outside of Baltimore,” Spears said.
Due to this, Spears helped form Bowdoin Bound. Elementary school children from Brehms Lane send teacher recommendations, transcripts, and test scores as part of their application to the program.
“Our vision for the program is to provide positive influences for these children at an early age, long before they head into those important high school years. We want them to understand that through hard work they can attend Harvard, Princeton or Bowdoin, and they should be thinking that way from an early age,” Spears said.
Those accepted take part in a week of educational as well as extracurricular activities. Last summer, the students attended day camp during the day and stayed overnight at MacMillan house with three elementary school teachers, their principal, and a Bowdoin student.
“Bowdoin Bound blossomed into a beautiful program,” said DeRay Mckesson ’07, a mentor for Bowdoin Bound. “It shows Bowdoin’s commitment to the common good.”
Mckesson read to the youth and also lead many of the team-building projects and games. “I was their support system,” he said. The students also learned how to write formal letters by spending hours writing to their mentors, according to Herly Rosemond, a board member for Bowdoin Bound.
“The students can begin getting an understanding of the kinds of educational opportunities that existed for them beyond their respective ‘backyards.’ In doing so, we would be enriching the lives of young, impressionable kids and Bowdoin would be playing a significant, positive role in influencing their future,” Spears said.
“The program is just phenomenal,” Mckesson said. This year one of the students received $15,000 to attend a private boy’s school. Two other students received a substantial amount of financial aid to attend private school in their area.
“Every day is a success,” said Rosemond. These students of color deal with similar issues as college students of color face in attending a predominantly white university. “They deal with the change in a more positive way,” she said. Through role-playing, the children learn effective ways to deal with being a minority on campus.
“Bowdoin has been extremely supportive of this program,” Spears said. The College pays for the students’ room and board. President Barry Mills and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Jim Miller participated this summer. Mills visited the students and talked with them for more than an hour while they were on campus, Spears said. Miller was present at the luncheon where the students submitted their applications.
“The future of the program depends upon our ability to keep the momentum we create during that week in July. We can’t just send the kids up to Maine for a week and then move on. We must mentor them and keep them engaged as they continue through middle school and then on to high school,” Spears said.
New this year is a mentoring program, in which each youth has a student of color from Bowdoin as a mentor. The mentor keeps in touch with the child, offering advice and acts as a big sister or brother.
The program raises money to send the students’ families to Maine and to provide funds for students’ whose parents want to send them to private school but do not have enough money to do so. The program is also incorporating new activities into the program.
One of the fundraising projects, which includes a letter-writing campaign, aims to raise money to bring the students who have already completed the program to Bowdoin each summer and add another group of students each year, Rosemond said.
“We are always looking for more mentors. We hope to expand the program next year so we will be in desperate need of more Bowdoin students to get involved,” Spears said.