Planting Academic Seeds

Helping underprivileged children become overachievers.

One of the more daunting challenges many parents confront today is the seemingly inescapable trap of under-performing urban schools. Particularly from New Jersey’s lowest income communities, the endless barrage of statistics is chilling: Dropout rates are as high as 70 percent, fewer than 6 percent of students who remain in high school achieve scores higher than 900 on the SATs and only 2.3 percent of urban students are expected to enter and complete college. According to The Economic Mobility Project, without a college degree, only half of all children from the lowest income families will rise to a higher income group. Parents understand that the key to economic success is an exceptional education. The question many struggle with is where to find that kind of opportunity for their children.

For parents in our area whose children have a genuine passion for learning, New Jersey SEEDS has provided an extraordinary answer. An acronym for Scholars, Educators, Excellence, Dedication, Success, SEEDS is a nonprofit organization that identifies highly motivated, high-achieving students from the state’s low-income communities. SEEDS then provides these students with rigorous academic classes, cultural enrichment and leadership training to prepare the youth for placement in some of the best schools and colleges in the nation.

The SEEDS program is extremely demanding. For two summers, admitted students spend three intense weeks on a residential campus engaging in a highly enriched curriculum as well as every Saturday during the school year between summers. Participation requires a tremendous commitment from students and their families. However, it delivers an amazing return that often leverages financial aid in high school and college that can surpass $300,000.

Consider Wade Morgan, a young man from Newark who completed the SEEDS Young Scholars Program in 2005. “It was very hard waking up every Saturday earlier than I would wake up for school to go to school for a sixth day of the week,” he recalls. “To have class, to have homework, to have assignments due— it was a very heavy workload. But it was very beneficial. It was rewarding to share classes with other intelligent minds and to know that people were making an investment in me and an investment in my future.”

It was a great investment. With guidance and advocacy from the SEEDS staff throughout the admissions process, Morgan earned a place in the Delbarton School’s 7th grade class. Delbarton is an independent, college-preparatory school for boys that gave Morgan a marvelous education, an opportunity to play high school basketball and a full scholarship. And the educational skills he developed at SEEDS continue to serve him well. This year, Morgan was accepted to a host of top-tier colleges and has enrolled at Stanford University, where he is receiving a full ride. The icing on the cake is that Morgan won the coveted Gates Millennium Scholarship, which covers any additional needs and graduate school if he chooses to attend.

Morgan is not alone. During the course of a year, SEEDS works with some 300 students in its education programs and places more than 130 students into selective independent schools, both day and boarding, and colleges from New Jersey to across the country. The organization also provides active guidance services to about 450 students once they reach their independent schools. Now on the verge of its 20th anniversary, SEEDS offers professional development and a support network to more than 1,000 alumni in college and beyond.

The organization’s work starts with recruiting by aggressively looking for young people who can thrive in demanding academic environments. The staff visits schools, churches, community groups, clubs and companies to talk about programming. SEEDS seeks nominations from principals, teachers, guidance counselors, pastors, coaches and even parents. Applicants submit report cards, teacher recommendations, test scores and financial documentation. From there, finalists and their parents take part in individual interviews. More than 800 students apply for 140 available spots each year to receive services.

Fast Facts

  • The average annual income of a SEEDS family is $36,000, less than half the median income in New Jersey.
  • Ninety-nine percent of SEEDS scholars graduate from high school and attend college.
  • The vast majority of SEEDS graduates attend “most competitive” or “highly competitive” universities.
  • Eleven percent of SEEDS graduates have attended Ivy League schools.

If SEEDS might be the answer for you or someone you know, visit www.njseeds.org and click on the “Apply Now” button.