HILLSIDE / UNION, NJ — When the Hillside Public Schools and Hillside Innovation Academy student and staff members visited Kean University for a tour of the campus on Friday, Oct. 29, Kean University President Lamont O. Repollet made a surprise announcement that would reduce some of the pressures on the seventh- and eighth-grade students: On graduating high school, Hillside Innovation Academy students will be officially accepted into Kean University.
Through its Kean Scholar Academy, a precollege program for high school students from ninth- through 12th-grade, Kean has partnered with Hillside to have accepted Hillside students on campus every three months, have planned activities for them and have Kean faculty work with the students, with plans to invest in students of the school. The partnership will be treated as an upward-bound program for Hillside.
Repollet also announced a $5,000 nontransferable campus-housing grant for the Hillside students, on the condition that they attend Kean University their freshman year of college. During the ceremony, students received certificates of their conditional acceptance into Kean University and for the housing grant. This initiative starts in the spring of 2022.
This arrangement is only for students at Hillside Innovation Academy.. When students are automatically accepted into the Kean Scholar Academy as high school students, they will earn and accumulate college credits throughout their four years of high school. By the time those students are admitted into Kean University after high school, 60 credits, or half the credits needed to graduate, will have been earned. This boost will save them money and help them graduate earlier.
“Today, we have Hillside Innovation Academy, a new school in Hillside, where I had the pleasure of being there for the ribbon-cutting ceremony along with Gov. Murphy, Sen. Cryan and Sen. Scutari. That was a great day. Eighty students of the Hillside Innovation Academy, grade seventh and eighth, received their conditional acceptance letters to Kean University,” Repollet said on Friday, Oct. 29. “It’s conditional, because they must meet all the requirements for high school, as well as the requirements for Kean University. ‘Conditionally’ means that we’re going to treat them as if they were students. We currently have students in Hillside that participate in our Kean Scholar Academy, which is our dual-enrollment program, and those students are official students. … We’re going to be engaged with them and have some events and activities. This is a relationship that’s just beginning.
“Today was perfect. I was impressed with them at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, and I think people know me well enough to know that, when I’m impressed with students, it’s my job to make sure that we cultivate that,” he continued. “I think today is an example of access and opportunity. Now they know the steps they must take to get to this point. But right now, we’re showing them the future, and it’s a great day, because we showed them that college is attainable, it’s accessible and whenever you attach a monetary scholarship or grant opportunity, it makes it more real. They’re in seventh and eighth grade, and they’ve just received a scholarship to Kean University for housing. It’s things like that that continue to motivate them, so they understand we’re investing in them, we believe in them and you do that by giving money. Their access becomes affordable and it becomes a reality.
“Our job is to make sure that, as educators, whether in the K-12 space or higher education … we give these students the opportunity to believe … that they can achieve,” added Repollet. “To me, this is an opportunity to put my money where my mouth is and to be able to tell these students that Kean University is a viable home. We have a beautiful campus, we have wonderful students, we have an amazing faculty and staff, and we can compete on any level academically in the state. This is just our way of saying we’re going to be the first one to offer you a scholarship and acceptance into college, because we believe in you. I was impressed with the Hillside Public Schools and what they’ve done by creating this academy for these wonderful, high-achieving students, and it’s up to us to support them.”
Hillside Superintendent Erskine Glover detailed the mission of this program and what it meant to him, witnessing students of the academy receive an opportunity such as this.
“We have 80 students at Hillside Innovation Academy and this is our first year,” Glover said on Friday, Oct. 29. “Ultimately, we want all of our students to graduate and go to college. Many of our students don’t always understand what it means to be a college student, so our students here at Hillside Innovation Academy, as seventh- and eighth-graders, toured the campus (and) got the opportunity to understand what it means to be a college student, even for a day. Starting them young and now giving them a financial boost that will allow them to think college is more than just a dream; it’s a reality.
“I feel overjoyed for them,” he continued. “As an educator, I’ve always wanted to make sure that students had the same opportunity that I had. When I was in seventh and eighth grade, I didn’t think about college like this, so for me, this was an opportunity of a lifetime for our students, and I hope it’s just one of many. Anytime my students get an opportunity to see what it’s like to be a college student and transition into adulthood, we’re launching them into the right space. This is really about the kids. Hopefully, this is many more years to come of greatness for our students.”
Hillside Board of Education President Kimberly Cook said the Hillside Innovation Academy seventh- and eighth-grade students were surprised by Repollet’s offer of an acceptance letter to Kean University, provided that they complete all the requirements.
“This is a great opportunity for our students and for our district,” said Cook on Friday, Oct. 29. “I’m happy for them. As a parent, I know I would be happy that my child is getting an opportunity to already be accepted into a college, and it gives them a goal to work toward, and I’m sure all of our students will meet that goal. In five to six years, we’ll see them here on campus.”
Hillside Innovation Academy’s lead consultant, Anthony Salters, was quick to agree with Cook.
“This is an awesome opportunity for any student who comes to Hillside Innovation Academy, as we work and nurture this school, which has only been in existence since September,” said Salters on Friday, Oct. 29. “But already, our students are accepted into college before they even get into high school. We just have to keep topping what we’re doing and giving our students options, because that’s what education is supposed to do: give students options.”
Kean Senior Vice President of Entrepreneurial Education Initiatives Sancha Gray, who introduced Repollet at the event, shared the excitement about the partnership.
“We’re so excited and delighted to have Hillside Innovation Academy students accepting a conditional acceptance to Kean University,” said Gray on Friday, Oct. 29. “This brings me great joy to have this partnership with the Hillside Innovation Academy and these wonderful students in our precollege program.”
Photos by EmilyAnn Jackman