Benefits of $30-million endowment

Salem High School students begin to see benefits of $30-million endowment
Posted on 02/04/2015
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Salem High School students begin to see benefits of $30-million endowment
Seniors Tanner Humphreys and James Watson and junior Abigail Sharp - students in Salem High School's International Baccalaureate program - working in Spanish class, on Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014. They, and other Salem students, will have the chance to take advantage of a $30-million endowment left to the school. (Staff Photo by Alex Young/South Jersey Times)
By Alex Young | South Jersey Times, Feb 4, 2015

Students at Salem High School will finally be taking advantage of the $30-million Forman S. Acton Educational Foundation endowment, as the first programs paid for by the fund are set to begin this week.

The school announced the endowment in October after longtime Salem resident and Princeton Professor established the foundation upon his death. The endowment is designed to last forever and to directly benefit the students of the district in the forms of scholarships, college accounts and college preparation.

At the time of the announcement, Salem City School District Superintendent Dr. Amoit P. Michel said the district caught Acton's eye when they established Salem High School's Internation Baccalaureate (IB) Program, a selective and rigorous program for the schools' 11th and 12th graders.

The program's current students were the first to get one of the foundation-backed programs under way when they met with ACT tutors earlier this week, according to Salem High School Principal John Mulhorn.

The students will meet with their tutors one-on-one to prepare for the test.

However, Mulhorn said students not in the IB Program that have still shown dedication to their studies will get their own chance to prepare for the ACT when group courses begin Saturday.

The school reached out to juniors with at least a 3.0 GPA to see if they wanted to take part in the courses. Mulhorn said a few students were not able to, and the school offered their spots to a few students outside of that range.

Students will meet in 14 sessions for a total of 30 instructional hours that lead right up to when the ACT is offered in June. If students are not happy with their scores in the June test, the school will provide courses over the summer to prepare them for a second ACT sitting in October.

Mulhorn said the ACT was chosen over the SAT because the latter is restructuring its test to be more like the former.

"Any time you have a new test, you hit the reset button," Mulhorn said. "As its revamping, you're going to have to start over with a whole new set of data. ... The ACT is not changing, and it worked out well for us."

He added that the ACT also aligns to some degree with Common Core curriculum.

The school had to make a request to the foundation to get funding for these ACT courses, sort of like a grant request, Mulhorn said. When they reached out about them, the foundation made an additional incentive to get students to attend the courses.

Students that participate in the courses will receive financial compensation to the tune of $50 per session, or $700 over the course of the 14-week program. Mulhorn said the compensation is intended to make it harder for students to come up with a reason not to go to the sessions.

"They didn't want students to use the excuse that they had to work or because of financial hardships," he said. "We wanted to make sure kids would come. Most of them would have come anyway, but it was the foundation's idea to out in the compensation package."

The school will also be getting help from a special counselor from Collegewise, a consulting firm which helps students to navigate their way through the college application process. Salem's counselor -- Christopher LaBounty, a former admissions officer for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- had his first day in the school this week.

"He's going to work with our students and our guidance department on what colleges look for," Mulhorn said. "He's a professional. ... He can identify what a student needs to do."

If a student want to go to Princeton, Mulhorn said LaBounty can tell them the things they need to do to get there.

"He can look at the profile of the students that are being accepted by certain colleges and see if the student fits that profile," Mulhorn said. "He's going to be a big resource to help students with college leads and to identify where they need to spend their time when applying."

Mulhorn said one of the driving reasons behind the endowment was to provide every student, regardless of family or economic background, with all of the tools and programs they need to succeed in education.

"These are the things people of privilege would do for their own kids if they were looking at getting into college," he said. "We want to provide opportunities where our students can go to any school that they want to. ... This is an initial step."