b'Putting the College in College PrepKean University opens its doors to high schoolersBY TIA SWANSON PHOTOGRAPHY BY JULIA MALOOF VERDEROSAer with money from the Kean Foundation.But the program is about more than giving students debt-free college credits.It really is an attempt to prepare kids to be successfulin the col-lege classroom and in life. While the program is open to any who can gain admission to it, Lester hopes to pull into that poor kids who have traditionally faced barriers to academic success because of their families backgrounds or their personal ones. Kean, which was founded in 1855 as the first public college in New Jersey (for much of its history, Rutgers University was a private college), has long been known as a school that seeks to attract those who traditionally face barriers to college, including first-generation and minority students. It has repledged itself to that mission under its new president, Lamont These rising ninth graders are members of the second cohort in the Kean Scholar Academy. O. Repollet, a Kean alum, a former commissioner of the states Depart-ment of Education and the first Black man to hold the office.At his formal inauguration last fall, Repollet said he would seek to foster an environment where students learn, grow, take risks, make mis-takes, regroup and keep climbing higher. I t is a warm morning in late June andball dug from the depths of a backpack.The friendship between Jason Lester, a tall man with a calm,None of this is particularly surprisingLesterandRepollet,who coach-like demeanor that immediatelygiven that a week or so ago the six werealsowasahighschool telegraphs his first, lengthy career as aeighthgradersintheSouthOrange- principal,goesbackmany high school principal, is busy usheringMaplewood School system. years. Lester says the Kean new students through their first weekTheyareherefouryearsearlyasScholarAcademyisthe oforientationatKeanUniversity,part of a new program at Kean thatbrainchild of Repollet, and where he now serves as the special assistantgiveshighachievingstudentsfromit grew out of long conver-to the university president and executive di- acrosstheregiontheopportunitytosationsthemenhadover rector of the Kean Scholar Academy. do college and high school simultane- their years of watching gift-These studentsgathered in a gleamingously. If these six, part of the programsed students fail.new campus building devoted to business second cohort of students, stick it out,Weve had a lot of diffi-are a tad more excitable than many incomingby the time they graduate from Co- cult conversations and had collegefirst-years.Duringbreakstheypro- lumbia High School they will be half- a lot of different programs duce a couple of rubber band balls for bounc- way through college, without a singleto prepare kids for college, ingand,onceoutside,almostimmediatelycent of debt. The program is entirelyLester says. None was a re- Jason Lester serves as the special assistant to the Kean University president and executive begin playing soccer with another pint-sizedfunded through federal grants, togeth- sounding success. director of the Kean Scholar Academy.14/ matters magazine / school 2022'