This is the first in a series on how local high school students can prepare for college.
WILLIAMSTOWN After observing inequalities between public- and private-schooled children in terms of college preparedness, a Williams College associate director of admissions decided to do something to level the playing field.
In 1999, Gina Coleman designed "Coleman's Quest for College," a board game that she developed as a tool to teach students what they need to do in high school to be successful in the college admissions process. By playing the game, students learn what lies ahead so they can make sound academic and extracurricular choices and maximize their higher education options.
Coleman recently trademarked the game.
"It all stems from my work in admissions and seeing the public-school students were woefully behind about the whole college process than private-school students," she said.
According to Coleman, children who attend private schools have an edge because, early on, they are "grilled about standardized testing" and "have recruiters from all different schools come in."
She said private-school students are well aware that they have to provide teacher and guidance counselor recommendations and that they must create a personal essay when applying to colleges and universities.
"They're savvy to the fact that some schools don't require standardized testing and other schools do," said Coleman. "They're much more savvy about early decision, early action, regular decision, rolling admission."
Coleman created "Quest for College" with the county's rural public-school students in mind.
"Because I felt that there was even a further divide," she said. "Private-school students are more prepared than public-school students, but then another slice is urban public-school students are better prepared than rural students very often because educational outreach programs really don't service little, rural communities. They service bigger or more urban metropolitan areas."
Urban students, she said, are more likely to have access to programs such as Prep for Prep, A Better Chance (ABC) and Oliver's Scholars, which take them out of their regular schools and place them in high schools geared to give them a leg up on higher education.
"At lot of urban schools ... it's almost the expectation because they are saturated by programs like this," said Robertson. "They've got programs that are going in and plucking out the best kids right off the bat and putting them into charter or magnet schools."
The game board features a student's path through high school, including points that colleges will consider in the application process. Four players or teams roll the die to move along the board after correctly answering one of 60 questions on the set of game cards. Stumbling blocks along the way include "suspended for fighting" and players must move backwards for disrespecting a teacher.
"Your disciplinary record is going to show up," Coleman said. "That's something they ought to consider. We're looking for good citizens. You may have stellar testing and your grades are on point, but if you've got a couple of incidents, that's something that a lot of schools just won't touch."
Grades count from the day a student starts high school up to halfway through the senior year, said Coleman.
"A lot of (ninth-grade) kids in public schools don't realized that we're looking, starting now," she said. In addition, "A lot of public-school students don't realize that the things that they do outside the class have a great impact on the college process and how they fare in the college admissions process."
"The game itself is something of a progression," said Mark W. Robertson, assistant director of admission at Williams. "You start with joining your first club, your first PSAT, up through studying for the (SAT) test, improving, taking honors classes and an AP class perhaps later your junior or senior year."
Coleman administers the game through a winter study class she teaches at Williams with a few other admissions staff members. College student mentors introduce the game and its concepts to ninth-graders.
This year, it was administered to students at Drury High School and Hoosac Valley High School; Mount Everett Regional School in Sheffield; Wahconah Regional High School in Dalton; in Pittsfield at Taconic, St. Joseph's and Pittsfield high schools, as well as to students in the Lenox and Lee high schools.
Coleman's goal is to get the game out nationally and to have other colleges and universities pick up the program for their respective communities. Among those interested are the New York State Department of Education and the Chicago Public School System.
"Quest for College" is available at Where'd You Get That!? or at www.questforcollege.com. The online price of the game is $35.