Twenty years ago, a philanthropist promised a free college education to 112 students at a West Philadelphia elementary school in a high-poverty, high-crime, black neighborhood. George Weiss, a money manager, spent $5 million on counselors, tutors, field trips, internships and scholarships to help the children achieve. What happened? The Philadelphia Inquirer traced the Belmont 112, who are now in their early 30s.
20 bachelor’s degrees. College graduates constitute nearly 19 percent of the class. A comparable group of children — the offspring of low-income African American parents without high school diplomas — were tracked in a national study beginning when they were eighth graders in the late 1980s. Just 10 percent finished college.
10 associate degrees.
14 vocational certificates.
65 high school diplomas, plus five GEDs. That is slightly above 62 percent, more than double what was considered the norm for their demographic group.
Of 45 girls in the group, 30 became teen mothers. One, a mother at 14, is now a grandmother.
Seventeen boys started selling drugs in their teens. Two are in prison for murder and robbery. Eight of the 112 have died, seven by violence.
Forty-four of the 112 were special education students. One of them, Jarmaine Ollivierre, labeled hyperactive, earned degrees in aerospace engineering and physics and now works at the Johnson Space Center. The dream he expressed 20 years ago — to be an astronaut — is a real possibility.
David Sims, socially promoted to make him eligible for Weiss’ offer, earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree and works as a real estate investor.
Nickia Little-Naylor, a mother at 17, now teaches health and child development at a school for pregnant and parenting teens. She plans to earn a nursing degree.
This page has links to profiles of some of the former students.
Weiss has gone on to offer a free college education to other classes of students. By starting earlier, he’s seeing higher graduation rates.
Some of the Belmont 112 are trying to start a community development nonprofit, but they’re not asking Weiss for help.
“We don’t want to leave everything on George Weiss,” (ambulance driver Majovie Bland) said. “It’s time for us to pick up and carry the ball, to do for our community and do for our people.”
The New York Daily News is running a series on students enrolled in a Harlem kindergarten class for gifted students 13 years ago. Sixteen of 21 students have graduated from high school, two should make it in another year and three have dropped out and given up. That’s much better than the odds for black and Hispanic students in New York City, but low for gifted students. Kamal Ibrahim, the most successful from room 206, is going to Carnegie Mellon, where he plans to major in physics.