‘College Bound’ works to assist students



According to the Talmud, in each generation are 36 righteous individuals without which the world would not exist. In the first year of the St. Louis-based College Bound program, 36 students were enrolled. Coincidence? Lisa Orden Zarin, executive director of College Bound, doesn’t think so.

“There’s a story that says basically in every generation there are 36 individuals in the world who are so good and righteous and holy that the whole world stands in every generation just because they exist,” Zarin said.

“They feel they’re so flawed and so broken and so imperfect and no one would suspect them…it turned out at the beginning…everything was turning out to the number 36,” she said.

Zarin, along with Debbie Greenberg, a former college counselor at Whitfield School in West County, left their jobs to start a program that would allow high school students who come from underresourced backgrounds to not only get accepted but also graduate from four-year colleges.

“We worked without salary for about six months,” Greenberg said.

Getting the program started was difficult, she explained, because College Bound needed nonprofit status approval.

However, in the summer of 2006, College Bound received its approval and recruited 36 students from two school districts: 10th graders at the University City High School and 10th and 11th graders at Clyde C. Miller Career Academy High School.

“Both schools helped identify high achieving, low income individuals,” Greenberg said.

“It’s all about leveling the playing field and giving students from underresouced backgrounds the same tools that children of privilege have,” she said.

The difference of college experiences for Zarin and her son got her thinking about how other students and their families make deicisions regarding college.

Zarin, who went to high school and some college with some difficulty and financial assistance, said, “I had a sense of the challenges that young people who are underresourced might face in the path of getting to college.”

In contrast to her son, who Zarin recalled asking her about the different available SAT prep courses, she said, “What do other people do who don’t have the parents who graduated from college, who can’t pick up the phone and say, ‘I know the names of prep courses and I can afford to pay for it.'”

Greenberg said many of the students in College Bound are the first generation of their families to go to college.

The College Bound mission is based on three components: preparation, placement and persistence, “and that means you stick with the kids through college. We start with kids who are finishing completing ninth grade and they’re stuck with us until they graduate from college basically,” Zarin said.

College Bound partners with local academic and nonprofit organizations to expose the students to different opportunities. The organization has partnerships with Kaplan Test Prep to help students prepare for SATs and ACTs, the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center to expose them to cultural events and Washington University’s student organization Each One Teach One offers tutoring to the students.

The students also wrote a book with StudioStL, called StudioStL: Self-portraits written by the students of College Bound, Number 1, which hit bookshelves last week.

College Bound also received the “What’s Right with the Region” award from Focus St. Louis.