On Main Street there is a white house with a blue door. From the outside it seems rather insignificant and completely normal, similar to all of the houses that surround it. This is also how the girls who live inside of that house may appear to the students and faculty of Andover High School, just seven other girls among the two thousand. In actuality, these girls are a lot more than they seem. They are a part of the A Better Chance program (ABC Program) and have been selected to attend AHS in order to receive a higher standard of education and have access to more opportunities than they would be available in their home towns.
The process of getting into the ABC program is as rigorous as that of getting into private schools and colleges. Applicants must take the SSAT’s several times as well as complete an essay. The program, which originated in Andover, will be fifty years old next year, and in that time has seen a lot of change. Founded in 1963, ABC was initially an all boys program, but was later switched to an all girls program once the opportunities available to black boys began to surpass those offered to black girls in number. The program now has more than 300 participating schools throughout 27 states in the US.
Photo Courtesy of ABC Program; Pictured are: Olamide Dupeolu, Elise Cabrera, Skye Padovani, Nilda Vega, A’Mari Bing-Way, Jenni Nguyen, Déanna Clarke-Campbell
Once they have been accepted into the ABC program in eighth grade, the girls are given a list of five schools that they have the option of attending in the fall. They then go to visit the schools in order to make their decision. “Prospective students spend the night with us and go to school with us the next day just to see how it is,” A’mari Bing-Way, a junior at AHS described.
Laughter fills the large dining room and bounces off its pale green walls as the girls describe what it is like to board with one another all year. “We kind of just coexist in some way, we all coexist together” explains Andover High School Freshmen Skye Padovani whose family lives in the Bronx. The girls board in Andover and split their time between living in the house and spending time with their partial host families. They are under the capable watch and support of special education teacher Mrs. Spinale, as well as two resident advisers. They eat family style dinners on Mondays, Tuesdays Thursdays and Sundays, and on the other days each girl eats dinner with her individual host family. Mandatory study times are set from 7-9:45 in the evening, and the girls are not allowed to watch TV during the week.
The table in the ABC house’s dining room is covered with various layers of juice boxes and snacks for the four girls going on the show choir trip to Ohio. Clubs and after school activities are another benefit that the girls find at Andover High. “I know in New York I would have never known show choir existed” said Elise Cabrera, a sophomore from Harlem who has discovered a passion for show choir though AHS.
But the transition from their homes to Andover isn’t always easy; the students tend to experience a level of culture shock. “I come from Philadelphia which is a really diverse city,” junior Déanna Clarke-Campbell illustrates, “and then when you come to Andover it’s not so diverse anymore.” Another shocking discovery made by the girls was how early everything closes at night, a hard concept to deal with due to their city backgrounds. Despite this, the girls all agree that homesickness isn’t a large problem for them as they get to return home over school breaks.
The opportunity to attend Andover High greatly benefits the girls because of the higher level of education and support. Back home, the girls explain, teachers didn’t put in the time to really help them reach their goals of succeeding and getting into college. Sophomore Jenni Nguyen says that one of the greatest benefits of the high school is a “closer connection to my teachers.”
In addition, the girls have given back to the school by forming a new club. It is called diversity club, and is open to anyone and meets once a week in room 305 to discuss ideas about how diversity is included in different settings. They also volunteer to help in school and town activities and clubs. AHS junior Nilda Vega even admitted that she had to “cut back on a lot of activities this year per the [ABC Program] board.”
Even though living with six other girls of all different ages isn’t always easy, the girls definitely have a very unique sisterly bond formed by the everyday struggles of being a high school student. Déanna exclaimed, “We all have a lot of work to do and even with all of that work, its still like a party.”
By Sydney Bergan