Program readies young ‘PUPPs’ for college

By Jada Fitzpatrick
Queens, N.Y.

To be a high achieving low-income student isn’t easy. Imagine being trapped in perpetual limbo between knowing what you’re capable of and not knowing how to cultivate your intellect. Reflect upon the sad predicament of not having regular access to test prep programs, college visits, or other vital aspects of the application process because your family is financially disadvantaged.

This was the reality for Janina Calle, a student at Trenton Central High School West. She is a great student, but like many students from low-income households in schools with limited resources, Janina also faces the challenge of not being able to take advantage of educational opportunities and resources. However, the founding of the Princeton University Preparatory Program (PUPP) has helped to turn around the lives of Janina and other students like her.

PUPP was founded in 2001 by Princeton sociology professor Miguel Centeno when he noticed a pattern of under-representation of low-income students in prestigious universities such as Princeton. In this intensive summer program, 24 students attend six-week-long sessions for three summers in a row. They take classes that promote academic and cultural achievement, exposing them to opportunities and ideas that would otherwise not be readily available to them.

“I didn’t know the proper steps to get into college,” said Youtee Wheager, a rising freshman at Mount Holyoke College and an alum of the program. “I can definitely see the growth.”

The highlights of PUPP include an art class, lab sciences, and trips almost every Wednesday. PUPP scholars also discuss a theme every year and explore it through their art, writing, and lessons. This year’s theme is Haiti.

Another perk of being engaged in the program is extensive preparation for the college admissions process. In fact, the knowledge instilled in students benefits not just them, but their family members as well. Janina’s sister attended PUPP before her, and now attends Princeton. Ivy League schools “seem so hard to get into,” Janina said. “Seeing that someone in my family actually got in there gives me a little bit of hope.”

Students also take several trips to various types of colleges, in the end visiting more than 30.

“They expose us to college life and help us get in the best college we can get into,” said Faith Llova, a rising junior at Trenton Central High School.

Much emphasis is also placed on SAT and ACT prep. “They are providing us with things necessary for higher education that lower-income families are unable to access,” said Ewing High School student Russell Stackhouse, passion embedded in every word. “I personally can’t find anything bad to say. I feel like everything that was promised to us they have followed through with.”

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