The Cooke Foundation has awarded grants totaling $500,000 to selective public high schools in six states to support the schools’ programs that prepare academically talented, low-income students to get admitted to and graduate from these top schools. Combined, the grants will benefit more than 1,500 students in grades 6-12.

“We want to give low-income students who are really smart an equal opportunity to succeed,” said Harold Levy, executive director of the Cooke Foundation. “Helping high-ability students with financial need fulfill their potential has significant implications for the social mobility among America’s lower-income families and for the strength of our economy.”

Selective public high schools provide a robust learning environment for advanced learners, offering rigorous curricula, deep engagement, and an academically oriented peer community, all contributing to strong preparation for students entering top colleges and universities.

Recent research has shown that economically disadvantaged students are less likely than wealthier peers to perform at advanced levels as they progress through their academic careers, creating a profound Excellence Gap—the disparity between the number of lower and higher income students who reach advanced levels of academic performance.

The Grant Recipients:

Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts, Hot Springs, AR
Grant request: $61,152
Number of students to be served: 40 per year

Project HELIX: to support high-performing students from the Delta region to prepare academically for the rigors of ASMSA and develop a sense of belonging within the student community. Project HELIX begins with a two-week residential summer program for 10th grade prospective students (ASMSA serves 11th and 12th graders) that runs concurrent with the math camp for incoming admitted students, thus creating an intertwined “double helix” peer community. Support continues throughout the academic year with peer-to-peer mentoring, admissions counseling on selecting courses to prepare for ASMSA, and free access to online ACT, PSAT, and SAT test prep. ASMSA expects at least 50 percent of students to successfully enroll in the school upon completion of Project HELIX.

Baltimore Polytechnic Institute and the Ingenuity Project at Poly, Baltimore, MD
Grant award: $100,000
Number of students to be served: 500 per year

Ingenuity’s STEM Challenges: to engage 500 high-ability sixth-grade students throughout Baltimore City in a yearlong series of advanced STEM challenges. The Ingenuity Project prepares Baltimore City gifted students to be nationally competitive STEM leaders. It is based at Poly, a citywide highly selective high school and a longstanding Blue Ribbon School of Excellence. Through STEM Challenges, students will problem solve in teams to come up with “engineering breakthroughs.” Additionally, STEM Challenges will present an opportunity to teach Baltimore City teachers how to identify behaviors of advanced students beyond achievement tests.

Carver High School for Engineering and Science, Philadelphia, PA
Grant award: $99,007
Number of students to be served: 80 per year

Saturday STEM Scholars (SSS): to build academic leadership capacity of 10-12th grade students at Carver and 7th and 8th grade prospective students participating in a yearlong bi-weekly STEM exploration program. Throughout collaborative, inquiry-based classes, up to 80 middle school students will learn about engineering design, computer science, applied mathematics, and sustainability and the environment from Carver teachers and high school peer mentors. Carver’s program addresses the limited positive academic peer support network that many students in low-income communities face by training high school students to serve as STEM role models and create stronger bonds with younger students. Carver HSES will engage parents in the program kick-off, quarterly student learning exhibitions, and STEM field trips. By working with four target groups of middle schools and out-of-school programs, Carver will expand the pipeline of students qualifying for its selective high school, recognized as the premier STEM-focused public school in Philadelphia.

North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, Durham, NC
Grant award: $99,781
Number of students to be served: 50 per year

Digitally Enhanced Integrated Math I: to develop and deliver a high school level integrated mathematics course via interactive video conferencing to low-income middle school students in Northampton County and ultimately provide the online learning course free-of-charge to schools across the state. Northampton County Schools is a rural school system where nearly 100 percent of students qualify for free lunch. North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM) faculty will deliver the integrated math I course to two cohorts of low-income, high-ability 8th grade students. This math course is critical for access to advanced high school math curriculum to succeed at NCSSM and in college. Northampton’s high poverty schools are limited in their capacity to offer advanced mathematics courses on their own. NCSSM, the oldest residential specialized STEM high school, is well regarded for its use of digitally enhanced instruction to bring rigorous STEM courses to students across North Carolina.

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST), Alexandria, VA
Grant award: $99,744
Number of students to be served: 100 per year

Learning through Inquiry, Fellowship, and Tutoring (LIFT): to provide a regional academic enrichment program, mentorship, and test prep as a vehicle to propel talented, economically disadvantaged 7th and 8th grade students to pursue TJHSST as a viable option for their high school education. Inquiry-based seminars during middle school are aimed to inspire students for TJHSST’s approach to learning. High school peer mentors living in their communities serve as role models who help “LIFT” scholars’ academic aspirations. A series of four test-prep sessions and materials prepare students for the admissions exam with structured, individualized support and academic advising. Coinciding with test-prep tutoring sessions, TJHSST parents will lead workshops for LIFT parents on the admission process and available resources. The LIFT program intends to at least triple the proportion of low-income students at TJHSST over two years.

Maine School of Science and Mathematics, Limestone, ME
Grant award: $36,000 in year one; $64,000 in year two (planned)

Improving Middle School Talent through Distance Education: to pilot the development and delivery of online curriculum blended with in-person activities and lab work for all interested middle school students in two under-resourced, rural school districts in Maine. Building on the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, the only statewide one-to-one laptop initiative in the nation, the school will deliver rigorous STEM curriculum developed in partnership with a scientist from the Jackson Laboratories. MSSM will also provide professional development for district educators to increase their use of research-based best practices to identify high ability, low-income students and foster talent in their districts. In collaboration with Educate Maine, a business-led advocate for education, MSSM intends to expand the successful pilot to other districts throughout the state and secure future funds for long-term sustainability.