The statistics are alarming: across America, an estimated 2 million students are trapped in failing schools, condemned by poverty to second-rate educations. The good news? A number of non-profit organizations are mobilizing to meet that challenge.

Student Sponsor Partners

Unlike traditional scholarship programs, Student Sponsor Partners (SSP) seeks out students who aren’t thriving academically in their New York City neighborhood schools, matches them with sponsors who agree to pay $3600 to send them to private school, and gives them the support they need to catch up. Students receive several weeks of tutoring before school starts and sign contracts agreeing to the terms SSP sets for participation in the program. Since many students come from families without any high school graduates, having mentors and professional role models is crucial; sponsors provide encouragement and support.

SSP’s students are the very kids society has written off – poor, academically marginal kids seemingly destined to drop out of high school. Nonetheless, 89% of participating seniors graduated from high school in 2007. 96% of the class of 2006 went on to college, receiving over $11 million in scholarships and grants.

The take-home message? School counts. “Our partner schools have a long history in our students’ neighborhoods,” says Program Director Catherine Marciano. “SSP schools deliver better results at an annual average cost of $5000 per student than public schools do with twice that amount.” Small class sizes, engaged adults, and clear expectations inspire achievement.

Prep for Prep

Agrees Robert Pondiscio, Communications Director of Prep for Prep, “Independent schools offer experienced faculty members, small average class size, academic rigor, and tremendous facilities.” Does this mean your local public school won’t do an excellent job of preparing your child for college? No. But when local schools aren’t up to snuff, programs like Prep for Prep help students make the transition to more challenging schools.

Prep for Prep coaches talented New York City students of color through an intense 14 month long program that includes classes on Saturdays and over the summer. Successful “graduates” receive over $20 million in scholarship money every year, attending some of the most prestigious private schools in the country.

A Better Chance

If your kids attend a marginal school, it’s difficult to know how to prepare them to succeed at an elite private school. “You just have to be a tough parent from the get-go,” says Chantal Stevens, Director of College Prep at A Better Chance. “You have to be a parent who advocates for your children, who reads to your children, who gets kids involved in extracurricular activities.” She recommends the Boy or Girl Scouts and community service projects as inexpensive ways to enhance kids’ resumes and says that libraries are great sources of both books and free tutoring.

A Better Chance refers students of color from across the nation to top public and private high schools, providing social, academic and college planning help to kids they consider future leaders. Successful applicants have proven themselves with strong grades, and receive over $20 million in scholarships annually.

Behind every successful ABC student is a supportive parent. Says Stevens, “we expect parents to be involved in the student’s day to day life whether they are in day or boarding school.”

If you’re a parent in tough circumstances, the message is clear: you can use the resources you have to make an enormous impact on your child’s education. While non-profits’ scope is limited, there’s no limit to the power an involved, encouraging, and pro-active parent can have.