WILLSBORO - A school in a small rural town in upstate New York, where 98 percent of the students are Caucasian, may have little to offer in terms of concrete lessons in diversity, but partner that school with one in New York City's Harlem community, where 99 percent of the students are African American and Hispanic, and diversity becomes more than an abstract concept.
So it was with Willsboro Central and Wadleigh Secondary, two College For Every Student (CFES) schools sharing a commitment to putting more underserved youth on the path to college, yet each serving a very different demographic.
The idea for a cross-cultural exchange began with the students themselves. A dozen juniors and seniors from Willsboro and Wadleigh were among 50 CFES Scholars who participated in a CFES-sponsored college exploration program at Skidmore College last July. The bond that developed between these young people over the three days underscored their many commonalities, overshadowing differences in race and culture. The students left Skidmore determined to reunite through CFES, an organization that helps underserved students nationwide get to college and be successful there.
That opportunity came in November, when the first leg of the exchange brought 12 Wadleigh CFES Scholars to the North Country to explore regional colleges and spend time with their Willsboro friends. After two days of touring colleges in Vermont and New York's Adirondack region, the Wadleigh students were introduced to Willsboro Central School and rural life. At Willsboro, the two student groups participated in a powerful diversity workshop, met with admissions directors from Champlain and Middlebury Colleges, and joined in a service activity by reading to elementary school children. And there was even time to visit a farm where the hosts weren't surprised to learn that none of their guests had ever milked a cow - until they came to Willsboro!