Hillary Vossler ’17
Recently in December of 2013, Trinity College joined the Say Yes program. In addition, Yale University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Washington University in St. Louis, Brown University, Williams College, Smith College, Kenyon College, Muhlenberg College, and Northeastern University also agreed to join the Say Yes program.
By joining the program, the colleges and universities agree to support the financial needs of students if they meet the Say Yes qualifications. By doing so they are creating motivation for the future of a student who hopes to give back to the community and inspire educational success in others.
George Weiss, who was born in Hartford and a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, founded the Say Yes program. Say Yes provides financial support, in addition to other services such as extended day/year programming, mentoring, tutoring, school-day academic supports, family services, health care, and legal services.
Say Yes hopes that students will be more inspired and motivated to graduate high school due to their financial support and other supportive services in college. In addition, Say Yes wants students to apply themselves throughout high school in order to be competitive for admission into nationally ranked colleges and universities.
Committed to improving the education of impoverished children, Say Yes is a nationally recognized non-profit organization whose mission is to increase the graduation rates of inner city students, at both the high school and collegiate level. Say Yes is committed to improving the education of impoverished children, realizing their potential and the challenges they face by living in poverty. The support provided by Say Yes will help students overcome these challenges.
Weiss’s inspiration came from a party his fraternity hosted for twelve inner-city children when he was a sophomore at college. Weiss easily got along with the children, and he listened to their stories about the struggles they faced. He was inspired by their enthusiasm and bravery, and vowed to keep in touch with the children even after he graduated college.
When Weiss was more established, he went back to the University of Pennsylvania and met up with those same twelve children and took them out to lunch. The children, who were now young adults, had all graduated from college. The students were inspired by Weiss and his generosity, and as a result Weiss was even more inspired than before to make a change in impoverished children’s lives.
In 1987, Weiss returned to Philadelphia and visited the Belmont School. There, he made a promise to 112 sixth graders that he would pay for their college educations if they graduated high school. The first Say Yes chapter was founded, and not shortly after that spread to other communities. Programs began starting earlier than sixth grade and provided more support, like health and wellness, to ensure emotional and social support and development.
Say Yes programs were producing positive results and began to expand to school districts. Test scores, graduation rates, and college enrollment rates were all showing improved results. The Say Yes Hartford chapter began in 1990 with the Annie Fisher Elementary School students. The 76 students visited the University of Hartford and received the same promise from George Weiss that he made to the Belmont School students in 1987; that he would pay the post secondary school education costs for everyone in the class. The gift was linked with the Hartford Scholars Program that provides half priced tuition at the University of Hartford for Hartford public school graduates.
Throughout the decade, Say Yes expanded to Cambridge and later to Harlem. In 2008, Syracuse, New York, was the first city to apply the Say Yes Program to all 32 schools in the district. In 2012, Buffalo, New York planned to implement the Say Yes program to their public schools. The Say Yes program is rooted in the belief of an education gap between students who go to inner city schools versus suburban schools. They believe there is an achievement gap that is shown in their grades, standardized test scores, dropout rates, college admission, and college-completion rates.
Say Yes addresses four major obstacles that would close the achievement gap: academic, social, and emotional readiness, health and well being, and financial resources. The earlier this strategy is applied to the student’s academic career, the more likely it is that the student will be successful in graduating high school and continuing on to college.
The Say Yes program believes that it will cause beneficial long-term effects, like a lower crime rate, a higher employment rate, a larger taxbase, residential growth, and improved educational outcomes. Say Yes has the support of lawmakers, mayors, county leaders, business leaders, teachers, school boards, and social programs, all who see the potential in the Say Yes program, and what positive outcomes it will bring in the future.
The support of these institutions provides necessary services for the advancement of Say Yes, like diagnostic testing, evaluation, tutoring, professional development, family services, mentoring, employment opportunities, college counseling, scholarships, legal support, and health services. These serve as resources for the Say Yes program, providing enrichment and promoting longevity to the program.