College Course Aims at Young Minorities and Modest Income Students

Manhattanville College, in Purchase, N.Y., has recently developed a leadership program for minority and modest income middle schoolers, i.e. sixth, seventh and eighth graders throughout Westchester County.


James Finger and students

The program, called "MPALS" (Manhattanville Promotes Academics and Lifelong Success), is an outgrowth of an original New York City idea that began in 1980 called "Prep for Prep." That concept, still based on the original W. 70th St. program in NYC, singled out middle graders, primarily African Americans and Hispanics, developing their skills as future leaders, allowing them to eventually move into all walks of U.S. society. The Manhattanville program has expanded on that original concept and is now drawing young students from Bedford, Tarrytown, Sleepy Hollow, Ossining, White Plains, New Rochelle, Mamaroneck and Port Chester.

Heading the Manhattanville program is James Finger, who is now Director of New Programs and Special Initiatives at the school. Finger came to the school by way of an MBA from North Carolina in 1980, a teaching stint at Riverdale Country School, on the staff at the International House at Columbia and then to the "Prep for Prep" curriculum in Manhattan. The thinking behind the Manhattanville concept, says Finger, was the fact that minorities and modest income students were seriously "under-represented" in various school leadership programs i.e., "Honors," "Advanced Placement," and "Gifted and Talented." It was thought that by providing these untapped young students with an understanding of what they and their peers could actually accomplish with their lives, society itself could benefit significantly. Finger outlined the qualifying factors for the program as: 1. Modest family income; 2. Performance in the top 20% of students in their school; 3. Demonstrated motivation; 4. Ability to undertake a rigorous curriculum.

Each summer, Finger and his associates conduct a five-week program on the Manhattanville campus, enrolling nearly 80 eligible students who have just completed the seventh grade. Various teachers and mentors are invited to lecture, teach, and later, guide individual students. The students live at home but visit the campus each day. Emphasis in this five-week session is on writing, literature, mathematics, research skills, art and psychology. Following this July 5 through August 4 summer course, the students will come back to the campus on l4 additional Saturdays throughout the next school year. When they complete that following year, i.e., the eighth grade, they will go through a second summer session. This second session will immerse students in an Environmental/ Life Science curriculum, again, another high intensity set of classes. As these students move up in high school towards graduation, Finger and his group will stay in touch with them, monitoring their progress toward college. Finger also encourages parents to likewise become involved in their child’s progress through contact with other teachers and other parents.

Graduating Seniors from the Sleepy Hollow School system have already enrolled in various major schools in the U.S. including Boston College, Georgetown and University of Albany. Finger concluded his on-campus interview by commenting that "MPALS" is largely driven by donors and talented academic volunteers from each of the towns and villages involved in the program. His phone number is (914-323-5368).

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About the Author: Arnold Thiesfeldt