Innovative partnership aims to break poverty cycle for Reading students


Working to give inner-city students an opportunity to rise above poverty, Alvernia University in partnership with the Olivet Boys & Girls Club, is launching a major initiative called the Reading Collegiate Scholars Program. The program is aimed at preparing larger numbers of high school students from Reading to attend and succeed at the college of their choice. 

When fully implemented, the two organizations plan to commit more than $10 million over a four-year period to both a “college readiness” program for Olivet Club high school students and full-tuition scholarships to Alvernia University. Support from private donors, foundations and the two organizations will fund the ambitious initiative. 

“We believe this effort can become a national model for how medium-sized cities foster college success for local lower-income students by integrating the efforts of education, social services, business, and civic leaders,” said Alvernia President Thomas F. Flynn. “The commitment required is large, but the potential to change lives is even greater. And the return on investment for our community is unmatchable.”

“This innovative collaboration will emphasize perseverance, commitment to excellence, pride in performance, and strong character,” said James R. Smith, chief operating officer at Olivet. “This partnership will address the vicious cycle of poverty, one young person at a time.”

The vision of developing a four-year “college readiness” program for high school students and providing up to 20 full Alvernia scholarships each year has received important lead commitments from The Hearst Foundation and Boscov’s Department Store. Rallying additional donor support will be essential. 

“Along with Boscov’s and The Hearst Foundation, our organizations believe this program will make a difference, and we are investing significantly in it. But to fully meet our ambitious goals, Alvernia and Olivet will need others to support the effort,” said Flynn. “Resources may dictate how fast the program will grow, but the stakes are too great not to set our sights high.” 

In the nation’s second poorest city, many Reading High School students are struggling to make a better future for themselves. Slightly more than 60 percent receive diplomas and many who do have low SAT scores and below basic skills in reading, math, and writing. The combination makes it difficult to adjust to a college curriculum. As a result, few ever graduate from college. 

But beginning this spring, through the Reading Collegiate Scholars Program, Alvernia and Olivet hope to help hard-working students break the cycle. The program is designed to better prepare students in grades 9-12 for college. Alvernia’s Holleran Center for Community Engagement will begin by providing regular tutoring, mentoring, and other activities to scores of high school students at Alvernia and Olivet locations around the city. 

After high school, up to 20 of these students annually will receive full scholarships to Alvernia, either directly or through the university’s dual enrollment program with Reading Area Community College. The university’s O’Pake Institute for Ethics, Leadership and Public Service will coordinate efforts on campus to assist students in adjusting to academic and university life and ensuring they receive team building and leadership development skills. Students entering together will progress as a cohort and will benefit from professional mentors within the local community, as well as peer mentors. They will also receive assistance in finding internships and summer job placements. 

“Everyday, children in Reading fall through the cracks,” says Jay Worrall, director of the Holleran Center. “While many of them have the motivation and ability to succeed, they don’t have the proper support network and resources needed. Our goal is for more of these students not only to attend college somewhere, but also to succeed and graduate with college degrees.”

Read More:

"Collegiate Scholars Program has great potential for Reading" — Reading Eagle Lead Editorial

"Alvernia University aims to prepare Reading students for college" — Reading Eagle

"Program Aims to Get Urban Poor Into College" — NBC Philadelphia

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