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A Better Chance program seeks American Indian applicants

NEW YORK - The national nonprofit organization A Better Chance is seeking more talented American Indian students interested in attending public or private college preparatory schools.

Founded in 1963, A Better Chance recruits talented students of color from across the country, looking for opportunities to attend some of the nation's top college preparatory schools.

Through the A Better Chance's college preparatory schools program, youth of color from the sixth to 12th grades who are at or above grade level with demonstrated leadership abilities can apply to attend top high schools, according to the organization.

The application deadline for the 2008 - '09 scholar class was Oct. 1. But if there are students and families who find out about the program now, the organization will review the applications, said Chantal N. Stevens, A Better Chance college preparatory program director.

''We want students who have an overall B+ grade point average with strong scores in math and English,'' Stevens said. ''In addition to that, students must take a standardized test.''

In selecting students, Stevens said the organization looks at the entire application, not just the results of the standardized test.

''We look for consistency in grades, and we want strong recommendations from students' teachers,'' she said. ''We also want to see students involved in school activities.''

But Stevens added that A Better Chance understands that some students may not have that opportunity.

''For example, some students may be required to babysit,'' she said.

A Better Chance works with youth of color in the fifth through 11th grades to place them in grades six through 12, Stevens said.

Once a student has been accepted, A Better Chance and the high schools partnering with it provide an orientation program on the East Coast and West Coast once a year, teaching study skills, Stevens said.

''We try to prepare the students for the different environments,'' she said. ''The college preparatory schools are more rigorous.''

Each region has a program coordinator, and each school partnering with A Better Chance has a liaison.

''A Better Chance works with the families, students and schools to assist the students,'' Stevens said. ''I tell families up front that the first year is an adjustment year. Once students get through that first year, they rise to the top.''

The program has a 90 percent retention rate, and the students attending college preparatory schools through A Better Chance go on to matriculate at Ivy League and top liberal arts colleges, Stevens said.

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Larry Nez is one of those alumni. He graduated from a college preparatory school in Massachusetts before going on to Princeton

University, where he earned his bachelor's in politics.

''I joined the ABC program in May 1969,'' said Nez, an administrator with the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission. ''I was 14 at the time, just out of eighth grade. Massachusetts was a different environment. Native Americans at the high school there constituted a very small percent.''

Despite the differences, Nez said his experience was rewarding.

''A Better Chance gives students an opportunity to go to school in a setting where the emphasis is on academics and athletics,'' Nez said. ''These schools have goals of producing scholar athletes.''

While in school, Nez ran cross country and played ice hockey and lacrosse.

''Students should explore different options in terms of high school,'' Nez said. ''Look at these private schools as an alternative to high school.''

Although A Better Chance doesn't provide financial aid for students, students applying to the program are required to fill out financial forms. The schools that partner with A Better Chance make the determination for financial aid, Stevens said.

''The schools are showing they have a commitment to a diverse environment,'' Stevens said.

A Better Chance currently has nine American Indian students in its program, but Stevens said, ''We're hoping to grow that number. We'd like to see more qualified Native American students apply, so they can also have access to exceptional educational opportunities.''

Overall, close to 2,000 youth of color are enrolled in the A Better Chance program, she said.

Students interested in applying to A Better Chance can fill out an application online; they may also download the application, print it and mail it to A Better Chance, Stevens said.

A Better Chance will visit schools to provide a presentation about its program if a teacher, counselor or principal has identified five or more students interested in the college preparatory school program, she said.

''We'd be happy to do this visit,'' Stevens said.

With more than 11,000 alumni, the organization continues to provide assistance on a limited basis to students once they graduate, Stevens said.

For more information about A Better Chance, visit