110 New Haven Public School Senoirs Receive Promise Scholarships

New Haven Promise helping 110 city graduates attend college
By Abbe Smith, Register Staff
 Courtesy of the New Haven Register
NEW HAVEN — Without New Haven Promise, Tiffany Manning might not be heading to college this fall.
The James Hillhouse High School graduate was inspired by the college scholarship program to bring her grades up from Ds to As, a feat she accomplished by quitting cheerleading to focus on academics.
Now Tiffany is headed to Southern Connecticut State University.

“People told me I could do it and believed in me,” she said.

She was one of 110 students who have been awarded New Haven Promise scholarships in the first year of the program. The college-bound graduates donned caps and gowns for a New Haven Promise “graduation” ceremony Thursday at Yale University’s Sprague Hall.
Mayor John DeStefano Jr. told the graduates and their families the event was an expression of confidence in their ability to work hard and accomplish goals.

“I think you’re a good bet for the future of New Haven,” DeStefano said, adding: “And I think all of you are going to pay back many times over, hopefully in property tax dollars.”

The number of Promise scholarship recipients amounts to about 10 percent of graduates district-wide. Only students who live in the city and graduate from New Haven public or charter schools are eligible. In the program’s first year, 371 students applied, and less than half — 151 students — were accepted. To qualify for the scholarship, students must have a 3.0 grade point average in high school, 90 percent attendance rate, a record of good behavior and completion of 40 hours of community service. Of the 151 students offered scholarships, 110 accepted.

New Haven Promise Executive Director Emily Byrne said the goal is to increase that number every year.

In the first year, students are eligible for 25 percent of the full scholarship, which is worth up to full tuition at an in-state public institution, or $2,500 for private in-state colleges and universities. The percentage will be phased in over four years so that the first class eligible for the full scholarship will graduate in 2014.

For some families, Promise offers a path to college that might not otherwise existed.

When New Haven mother Patty Luzzi lost her job and was diagnosed with kidney cancer three years ago, she thought of her twin sons and about how she would be able get them to college.

On Thursday, Luzzi celebrated two things: being cancer free and sending both boys off to college; her sons, Franco and Stephano, will be headed to Fairfield University and the University of Connecticut, respectively.

“My American dream is my kids going to college,” said Luzzi, who came to Connecticut from Argentina years ago.

The city launched New Haven Promise last year; Yale University is funding the scholarship portion and the Community Foundation of Greater New Haven is covering administrative costs. The initiative, a major component of the school district’s massive school reform effort, has been touted as an economic development generator for the city as much as a strategy for getting students to go to college. Multiple speakers at Thursday’s ceremony urged the students to thrive in college, graduate and then come back to New Haven to put down roots and contribute to the local economy.

Superintendent of Schools Reginald Mayo reminded students that they have the support of community leaders from Yale President Richard C. Levin to Community Foundation President William Ginsberg, who invested heavily in the children’s futures.

“This whole community is behind you, pushing and hoping you have success in the future,” Mayo said.

Levin told the graduates Promise will open doors in the future.

“A college education will expand the horizon of your thinking and increase your opportunity to hold good jobs and build satisfying careers,” he said.

The students also got messages of congratulations from keynote speaker Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, via video.

The Promise program is not just scholarships; there are components that seek to get parents and the community more involved in creating a culture of college attendence among city youth.

This spring, Yale-New Haven Hospital pledged $2 million to fund the partnership component of Promise, with Wells Fargo bank donating $300,000.

Most of this year’s Promise scholars will attend in-state schools, such as Southern Connecticut State University and Gateway Community College, and two will attend Yale. Since Promise is a “last dollar in” program, meaning the scholarship kicks in after other grants and awards, recipients won’t know the full amount of their scholarships for several weeks.