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A College Guidance Counselor, His Students, and the Vision of a Life Beyond Poverty

by Beth Zasloff ; Joshua Steckel

Pub Date: March 25th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-59558-904-0
Publisher: The New Press

Inspiring account of what it takes to overcome class and ethnic barriers to gain acceptance to college.

In 2006, Steckel was recruited to a new Brooklyn high school (the Secondary School for Research) from the college admissions program of a private Upper East Side school. He and his wife, Zasloff (co-author: Hope, Not Fear: A Path to Jewish Renaissance, 2008), chronicle the pitfalls he faced as he helped the students navigate the college-admissions process and worked with his existing network of admissions officers and support programs to qualify candidates in innovative and unorthodox ways. The success stories built foundations for others in applying and dealing with the stereotyping, racism and unconscious bias the students encountered as they advanced toward their goals of college admission. Steckel helped the students develop the resources to present their personal stories successfully. They also had to keep their eyes on the prize as they endured brutal misfortunes—e.g., the fire that destroyed Mike's home and put him in a shelter or the gang beating that nearly killed Dwight. Steckel was with them the entire way, celebrating successes and helping them overcome heartbreaking setbacks and bureaucratic inflexibility. He helped the students find programs in which potential college candidates from disadvantaged communities could pre-qualify through competitive recruitment—e.g., Questbridge and Posse, which work with Ivy League schools. The author also worked with them to meet deadlines, be on time for interviews and raise funds through scholarships. Of the 42 members of Steckel's first graduating class, 41 entered college, and they qualified for $1.8 million in scholarships. The next year's class was 75 strong and ready for another new beginning.

A powerful story of courage and hope that should inspire others to follow trailblazers like Steckel and his students.